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  • Posted by: Calin Hertioga on Wednesday, September 5 2012 05:17 PM | Comments (0)


    Photo by Interbrand's Alex Leopold

    The Paralympics are underway, as is the medal count. As it stood end of Day 6, China had accumulated the most medals, followed, in order, by Great Britain, Russia, Australia, Ukraine, USA, Germany, France, Spain and Brazil. China had won 53 gold medals, 30 more than Great Britain and 39 more than the USA. But as Channel 4's Superhumans campaign highlights, every Paralympian is a superhuman athlete. Reflecting on London 2012's medal count, one might ask, "Did one nation emerge the winner?"

    Tribes and then nations have always been competing for resources, economically and politically, since the beginning of human history. In more recent times, a new type of competition is emerging: the nation brands competition.

    While quantifying and ranking nation brands is a (daunting) topic becoming hot only in the last few years, the first internationally established "measurement standard" for nation brands has been around for more than 100 years - the Olympic Games medals ranking.

    Economic and then political competition among nations has largely followed the principle "more is better" - and this is the way the medal ranking is set up as well: Who wins the most medals? The IOC has introduced a "qualitative" element, ranking countries by gold medals above anything else. [in this exercise we'll use the "New York Times weighting principle"to get a country score of "bronze equivalents": 1 point for bronze, 2 (double) for silver, 4 (double) for gold].

    The USA is leading all "quantitative" rankings of the London 2012 Olympics, by total medals (104), gold medals (46) and total points (271=46x4+29x2+29x1). But did the United States really "win" the Olympics?

    From a "quantitative" perspective, yes – and here's how the top 10 ranking by "bronze equivalents" looks like:

    Medal Count

    But have these countries really "won" the Olympics in terms of "quality" as well? Have they made the most effective use of their resources?

    Each country starts from a different "potential" in terms of two key resources needed for medal performance: people and money. Let's see how well countries have used their initial starting potential for winning medals.

    Let's therefore compare the share of medals (bronze equivalent points) won with the share of world population and world GDP. (sources: United Nations and CIA Factbook, via Wikipedia)


    The ~300 Million US citizens represent around 4% of the world population – less than the 12% share of bronze equivalents, which means they have achieved 268% of their potential (12%/4%=268%) – well done!

    But have others done better? The top 10 ranking of (over)achieving population looks like this:


    Grenada, a tiny island in the Caribbean, grabbed the first spot due to its very small population (110,000 inhabitants) coupled with the one gold medal won by the sprinter Kirani James – even this medal, however, way exceeding its theoretical potential.

    Even if we consider Grenada and Bahamas as outliers (although we know from Malcolm Gladwell that there are no outliers), it is obvious that countries with a small population can more easily surpass their potential. Of these, the more deserving ones should be the ones who do so benefiting from less financial power than others – which brings us to the next criterion.


    The USA accounts for 20% of the world's GDP – with only 12% of medal points share, they have underachieved their potential. The top 10 from this perspective looks as follows:

    This ranking gives an advantage to countries with a very low GDP among the ones with a good medal exploit – Kenya, North Korea, Cuba.

    And now to the finale: Averaging the population and the GDP scores out gives us the combined ranking of the most effective nations – most over-achieving the combination of their population and financial potential:


    Beyond Grenada and Bahamas, Jamaica and New Zealand are the stars: they have won 12 respectively 13 medals, for a population of 2 respectively 4 Million inhabitants.

    Their success stories came on different paths: Jamaica obtained all medals in one single sport (athletics), while New Zealand medalists spread over 7 disciplines (athletics, cycling bmx, canoe sprint, cycling track, equestrian, rowing and sailing).

    If we look down the list, we see similar patterns – while Georgia and Mongolia got their medals in a small number of disciplines they excel at (wrestling and judo), Hungary won their impressive 17 medals in 8 disciplines (athletics, canoe sprint, fencing, gymnastics, judo, modern pentathlon, swimming, wrestling).

    So – who won the Olympic Games? The USA? Grenada? Jamaica? New Zealand?

    It's the Olympics. Everybody won. Medals aren't the only things that count.

    Calin Hertioga is a Senior Consultant at Interbrand Zurich.

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  • Posted by: Dan Spiegel and Asher Fink on Tuesday, August 28 2012 09:38 AM | Comments (0)

     Chin Up

    The 2012 Olympic Games are over and, as usual, did not disappoint. Now, after descending from our collective athletic honeymoon on Mount Olympus (London), the Paralympics, which start this week, would like us to return to the mount.

    Show up to work on Wednesday in your nation's colors, and if you get funny looks, point confused onlookers to British Channel 4’s breakthrough “Meet the Superhumans” campaign, which will surely get them fired up.

    Aided by the campaign, the Paralympics committee is expecting a sold-out crowd - a record number of roughly 2.8 million spectators. This is especially impressive given that the games offer 21 sports as compared with the Olympics’ 38.

    What makes “Superhumans” so powerful is its ability to transform our thinking around not only adaptive sports, but also adversity. While the Paralympics once jockeyed for our attention by offering yet another athletic pursuit amidst the scores of games we already watch, the “Superhumans” approach offers something fresh and, arguably, far more exciting.

    Superhumans shows us that paralymipans take their sport to a new and exciting level: we witness stories of greatness not despite, but as a result of intense disadvantage. Ultimately, “Superhumans” connects the notions of struggle with accomplishment – an insight particularly relevant given the ongoing problems across the macroeconomy. People around the world are being forced to make the best of their circumstances.

    The struggles of paralympians put our issues into perspective, and help us transform our problems into opportunities to, frankly, be badass. We become enthralled by the journey of an individual, rather than blindly follow a countryman we barely relate to.

    In contrast, the Olympians of yesterweek seem, well… just plain human. Watching the superhumans makes greatness feel within reach and gives hope and confidence to a generation, while providing an anthem of tenacity to the disadvantaged.

    Dan Spiegel is a Senior Consultant and Asher Fink is a Consultant for Interbrand.

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