What Have Brands Learned from the Olympics a Year Later? by Daniel Todaro
We’re all in agreement that what characterised the London Olympics was the way in which it brought the nation together; how it immediately created a spontaneous sense of community and altruism we never thought we had in us. Likewise, we were also quick to agree that from a marketing perspective it had been a rousing success for the brands who had taken the leap by investing in sponsorship.
By aptly integrating into the wave of patriotic and social spirit, these brands found themselves quickly dispelling the previous conjecture ‘censorship’ and the ominous ‘brand police,’ and reaping the benefits throughout the Games and long after the final medal had been awarded. No fewer than half of the top 10 most improved in YouGov’s 2012 Brand Index were Games sponsors, whilst the likes of BA, Adidas, P&G and Sainsbury’s were among the many that revelled in the critical acclaim.
However, at the time I wondered how long this Olympic spirit would last, whether this upsurge in enthusiasm for altruism, community, volunteering and a sense of love for our fellow man would eventually peter out; the status quo soon restored.
A year on and we’re much better placed to answer that question. Is there evidence of an Olympic legacy within the marketing industry? Well, yes, very much so.
What we’re seeing is a clear shift in the way the world’s largest brands are conducting themselves, they’re acting more human (and perhaps, in turn we’re humanising such brands too). It’s difficult not to notice the pure and wholesome nature of the TV ads we see on the airwaves and the promotional activity we see in our towns. More so, it’s largely those who played a key role at the Olympic Games leading the charge.
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Coca-Cola, for example, has eschewed its own branding in order to encourage us to share a coke among pals, as if it represents an age-old friend we’ve known since childhood. Adidas and GlaxoSmithKline have both been vocal in their opposition to steroid abusing athletes; a far cry from an era not so far behind us when sponsors would refuse to take a moral stance. Today, they seek to adopt an ethical code in line with their consumers.
The explosion of organisations on Twitter taking on a simple human guise (First Direct and Solihull Police provide two highly diverse, but excellent examples) further provides evidence of this move towards humanisation. The most successful view those online conversations much like a real-world one. They adopt the same rules of etiquette: Much like you wouldn’t barge into a real-world conversation trying to sell a mobile phone contract, these brands are instead seeking permission to join the conversation by trying to demonstrate an effervescent (or at least useful) personality.
With more and more brands experimenting with this approach, the trajectory only appears upwards and I cannot help but feel that this trend was kickstarted by the Games. London 2012 showed us all the power of humans, ordinary humans that shattered the perception of a soulless, IOC machine we all believed would characterise the Summer. Instead, we found human beings we could relate to, ones that were more worried about contributing to our good times rather than nitpicking over red tape and fretting about the threat of ambush marketing.
The difference for these winning brands is that they’re moving on from simple traditional, broadcast communication; taking that ATL message and delivering it through the line. They’re walking the walk as well as talking it, and doing it at the local level to encourage real social cohesion, becoming the catalyst that brings entire communities together.
Through brands acting human and investing in people, the Olympic spirit may just become a genuine legacy after all.
Five brands taking a more human approach
Visa signed Usain Bolt for its 2012 ‘flow faster’ Olympic campaign. The ad’s demonstrated the various payment technologies on offer from Visa, with the message that it made life quicker and easier.
That theme continues in Visa’s 2013 activity, but the influence of the Olympic legacy is clear. The focus shifts from Usain Bolt to an old man and while ‘speed’ and ease of convenience is still a key brand message, the story of the old man racing to the birth of his grandchild is a significant, family-orientated step-change from what had gone before that adds a new human dimension.
Coca-Cola went Hollywood with its all-singing, all-dancing activation at London 2012, enlisting Mark Ronson to create the brand’s own song for the Games; something quite introverted. While the brand did commendably look to find ways to connect with and inspire young people, the national TV campaign was typically weighty in both celebrity endorsement and investment.
It provides the platform for perhaps the most significant change of direction, with the incredibly successful ‘Share a Coke’ campaign. Simple, effective and very personal
P&G won the hearts of the nation in record time with its ‘Proud Sponsor of Mums’ ads; notable for being the first time the multi-global corporation had directly addressed its consumers under the P&G brand name.
Since then, new Global campaign ‘Everyday Effects’ has been launched with a significant human feel. Throughout the world, P&G are distributing ‘Blue Boxes’, making a not-so-subtle, but effective demonstration of all the products within the P&G family.
Carrying on the soft theme, P&G quickly signed up the highly-endearing Kirstie Allsopp to lead the campaign and the brand giveaway action, as it seeks to speak to customers on a one-to-one level and become a household name.
Adidas implored Team GB to take the stage during the Olympics and in the process, became a legitimate part of the iconography of the Games that we hold in our memories.
Adidas have rarely looked back since, continuing to make the most of those British connections with the recent Andy Murray and British Lions successes. The brand also did not blink in its decision to drop star sprinters Tyson Gay and Asafa Powell following failed drugs tests. Would this decision have been so clear cut five years ago?
As primary sponsor of the Paralympics, Sainsbury’s were a key driver in ensuring the Paralympic Games were elevated to a level of attention and status that was unprecedented. The retailer went to great lengths to both celebrate the athletes, but also emphasise the human qualities of its brand.
Such was the adulation Sainsbury’s received for its sponsorship, arguably they could have left it there and moved on – but a year on and they’re continuing with a push to promote sport in schools and investment in both disabled sport and British Athletics as a whole. The Sainsbury’s Anniversary Games left us in no doubt of a lasting commitment.
Perhaps the biggest winner of all, Sainsbury’s demonstrated a human aspect that is leaving rivals in its wake. It goes beyond tasting a difference; Sainsbury’s is genuinely making a difference.