"adidas was perceived as the best fit with the Olympic values, with more than 50 percent of respondents concurring with this. “As official Sportswear Partner of London 2012, Adidas outfitted more than 80,000 Games Makers with sustainable kits and supplied over 3,000 competing athletes with kits,” says Law. As a result, with so many athletes sporting adidas gear, the brand succeeded in linking itself, its products, and its values intimately to the Games. "
There are few opportunities to display the brilliance of your brand in front of almost a billion people, but when they come it's best to be prepared. Every two years, the Olympic Games holds the world in its thrall, attracting a staggering number of viewers, all captivated by the powerful performances of the very best athletes in the world whether at the biannual Summer or Winter games. Successfully associating your brand with such an inspirational event, rich in history and human endeavor, can make it just as much a winner as any of the finest gold medalists. Yet, get it wrong and the damage can be catastrophic.
When Rio de Janeiro plays host to the 2016 Summer Olympic Games, it will be against a backdrop of a beautiful city known for hosting some of the most festive events in the world, meaning that brands that align themselves with both the Olympic spirit and that of Rio, will have much to celebrate. In contrast, those who push their message with little thought to the event or location may end up being perceived as losers of Olympic proportions.
Olympic sponsorship is a complex tiered system of sponsors, partners, supporters, suppliers and providers, combined with individual event, team and athlete sponsors. There are 11 global sponsors, known as TOPs (Top Olympic Partners), who collectively invest approximately £1 billion for the right to use the Olympic logo. These contracts are both global and long-term. Sponsoring brands tend to be large and well established, with five of the 11 featured among the top 100 in our 2013 Best Global Brands study (McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, Samsung, Visa and GE). But before you assume you can’t capitalize on the Olympics if you’re not as big as Coca-Cola or McDonald’s, just remember two things: you don't have to be a big spender to reap the rewards and you don't even need to be a sponsor to strike Olympic gold.
The London Olympics serve as a great learning platform for brands that wish to participate in and benefit from the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. Research carried out by Katherine Law, a Senior Consultant from our London office, before and after the London 2012 Olympics, not only shows us who was victorious, but also what it takes to win in this uber-competitive race to Olympic glory. As the Olympic torch is passed from London to Rio, here is what Brazilian brands can learn from their predecessors.
1. Universal appeal and alignment to Olympic values are key criteria for sponsorship success
Since ads and logos are prohibited in the Olympic Village, sponsors must make the best use of all other platforms to advertise. The only way to do this successfully is to link them back to the Olympics. “London 2012 was successful in reinforcing the Olympic values, in particular the more human characteristics such as friendliness, understanding, courage and passion,” says Law. Our research showed that BMW, BT and EDF were the most successful in embodying these values and transferring equity.
adidas was perceived as the best fit with the Olympic values, with more than 50 percent of respondents concurring with this. “As official Sportswear Partner of London 2012, adidas outfitted more than 80,000 Games Makers with sustainable kits and supplied over 3,000 competing athletes with kits,” says Law. As a result, with so many athletes sporting adidas gear, the brand succeeded in linking itself, its products, and its values intimately to the Games. On the other hand, TOP sponsors like McDonald’s and Coca-Cola struggled to align themselves with Olympic values, considering the health concerns associated with their offerings.
2. How you handle criticism will be critical to your success
The challenge for brands with negative associations is to deflect or diffuse criticism and address the issue directly. Dow was faced with protests against its sponsorship as a result of its association with the Bhopal disaster in 1984. Since Dow acquired the company responsible for the disaster, Dow should have addressed the protests and clarified its lack of involvement to the public. Remaining silent only reinforced the perception its own brand was somehow associated with the disaster. As Law points out, “Negativity towards Dow did not necessarily escalate over the Olympic period; however, they made no inroads to build any positive feeling towards the brand.”
3. Brand saliency is not always positive
Based on our research, the majority of official sponsors achieved a significant uplift in saliency. Interestingly, we saw McDonald's overtake Coca-Cola as the most salient brand, with 55 percent brand recall. However, most mentions were largely negative. Similarly, Visa achieved 49 percent brand recall, but mostly as a result of criticism over its monopoly as the only accepted credit card for ticket and Olympic Village purchases. Further reinforced by our post-Olympic research, 23 percent of respondents said they felt more negatively towards Visa after the Games.
4. Beware of political implications
Brands that are associated with the government need to tread carefully. Many in the UK thought that Lloyds Bank, a bank that came under government ownership during the financial crisis, had no right to use public funds towards a £40 million (USD $64.2 million) sponsorship of the Games. This could also be a sore point in Brazil, where some citizens are opposed to the investment that is going towards both the World Cup and the 2016 Olympics.
Another example is Atos, one of the TOP sponsors that came under fire as disability activists protested about the company’s involvement with controversial incapacity benefit “fit to work” tests. Negative perception of Atos can only have worsened with the incredible success of the London Paralympic Games.
5. National pride and altruism pay off
One of the most interesting and effective messages that came out of the London Olympics was that of British Airways. The airline took full advantage of the Olympic spirit by encouraging people to stay at home and support Great Britain. As Interbrand Global CMO Graham Hales comments, “British Airways appeared to have put its own corporate needs below that of the greater good, which enabled it, as a British brand sponsoring a British event, to put a mark of ownership on the Games.” As a result, our research shows that 46 percent of respondents now feel more positively towards BA as a result of its Olympic involvement.
6. Understand your role and your audience
Not all sponsorship is meant to engage consumers. Some of the TOPs, such as Atos, Acer and Omega, that provide infrastructure and services for the Olympics, use it as an opportunity to showcase their ability to handle such an event, in the hopes of securing future contracts. Atos provides all the information technology for the Games, whilst Omega is its official timekeeper and Acer provides computing equipment. Whilst the success of the Games will certainly secure them future clients, any glitch becomes a very public one. Take G4S, for example. The British firm chosen to handle all the security for the event failed to train enough staff and was unable to deliver, despite being a sponsor.
7. Ensure you are engaging in brand-building activities and not just ad campaigns
Many brands use these global events to introduce a new ad campaign, with little thought to long-term, brand-building initiatives. A fine example of brand-building success, the winner of the sponsorship race undoubtedly goes to P&G, the first sponsor to promote its corporate brand and communicate a message beyond its financial support. “The ‘Thank you, Mum’ campaign was the perfect platform to speak to consumers as P&G, rather than through hero product brands and to successfully build awareness and familiarity with the corporate brand on an Olympic stage,” says Law.
8. You don’t need to be a sponsor to benefit from the Games
Though sponsors tend to reap the bulk of the benefits as a result of their financial clout and established reputations, some smaller brands have taken full advantage of these events to showcase their products. Dr. Dre’s Beats by Dre headphones were seen worn by the likes of Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian of all time, and just about every member of the US swim team. The brand set up a shop right by the Olympic Village and invited athletes to visit the store and get a free pair of headphones. With minimal investment, they were able to promote their brand to almost a billion people. Even brands such as MasterCard, Nike and Virgin, which were not sponsors of the 2012 Olympics, were misattributed as Olympic sponsors and benefitted accordingly. Based on our research, 24 percent of respondents associated Nike as a sponsor, with 18 percent attributing MasterCard and Virgin as sponsors.
So take some time to consider how your brand can best work in 2016. Be intelligent, inspiring and imaginative in your approach and the Olympics will provide an enormous captive audience that will be receptive to you brand. It will also provide the perfect setting for Brazilian brands to debut on the world’s most prominent podium. Just think of the example of Samsung—a brand that was well-known in its home market, but achieved global credibility and recognition only when it outbid Motorola for a spot as a Top Olympic Partner.
The 2016 Rio Olympics promises unparalleled brand-building opportunities for Brazilian brands, sponsors, and other global brands—but the key is to learn from the pitfalls and successes of brands that have tested their mettle at the Games in years past. May the best brands win!