Olympics – Losing relevance for brands

Olympics – Losing relevance for brands

The Olympic Games have always been about the journey. The thrill of seeing new competitors coming through the ranks fighting to topple the old heroes, the anticipation of the trials to see who will make it through, the pride of family and friends who know the pain and hardship that went into the journey, and of course the breath-holding to see how they perform on the day versus other hungry competitors. This year a new elitist vibe seems to have emerged. Not only has the gold medal become the only goal (at least in media circles), with silver and bronze taking on almost a ‘loser’ stance, but some sports, it seems, are seen as second rate, if they are not the highly sponsored/publicised sports.

Aussie Silver Medallist Mitchell Watt was reportedly taken aback when his post-event interview began with the words “that’s disappointing”. He didn’t think so – he’d just come second in the entire competing world in the longjump. He was ecstatic!

Ian Thorpe, commentating for the BBC during the London Games was told by Harry Wallop of The [London] Telegraph that we (Australia) had just won Gold, and after asking Harry what event it was in, Harry replied “Oh, some kayak or canoe thing”. Quite rightly, Ian Thorpe responded with the plea “Don’t say it like that!….some kayaker or canoer has trained their whole life for this moment” (The Sun Herald Aug 12, 2012).

This elitist vibe is reinforced by ever tightener sponsorship guidelines, aimed at preventing non-sponsoring brands from ambushing the sponsors’ airspace. As a major sponsor, this of course makes a lot of sense. This year Adidas reportedly paid $62mill to be an Olympic sponsor, a figure way out of the league of most brands and companies, many of which partnered athletes through the sweat and tears of the 4 year journey to get there. Yet at that price, the Games are only for the elite brands, and (if a gold medal is the only kudos) only relevant for the most elite in a handful of sports.

But the Games must continue to be about more than just the elite, or it risks losing its relevance and interest. We all love the big win, no doubt about it, but what inspires people all around the world is the individual stories of overcoming challenges to get there. This is what inspires entire nations to participate. This is what provides hope to young kids with a dream of one day competing at that level. This is what creates role models and provides the important link between success and the everyman, and this is what drives sponsorship.

According to various press reports, Nike’s ambush campaign was a real winner this year, not only because they managed to get around the tighter sponsorship guidelines, but also because they effectively bridged the gap between the elite gold medallists and the rest of us who just like to compete. Through their sponsorship of several US committees and sporting federations (and hence, athletes), and their ubiquitous supply of footwear across almost every sport, Nike’s presence was still obvious. They also brought personality and realness to an event that could be at risk of being tarred with the ‘slick marketing brush’ of major sponsors, through their social media ad campaign featuring unknown athletes from towns and villages called London all around the world.

On 13th Aug (2012) B&T published an article which questioned the future of sponsorship deals for medal-less athletes. If a sponsor believes there is a great connection between their brand values and those of an athlete, then surely those values don’t change when the athlete wins silver instead of gold, or if they win no medal at all. The athlete has still performed at the elite level (hopefully with personal and national pride), and has possibly been on a journey more real to any of us than the athlete who won gold. The real sponsorship benefit is realised when brand values, sponsored athlete’s values, and the consumer’s own values collide. The collision of these value sets is what connects brands to people, and ultimately, to shopper behaviour.

Long live the Olympics and the celebration of the journey!

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