Most Had False Starts at Brand Olympics


As a child I used to really enjoy watching the Olympics – cheering on the national team was always so exciting and often nerve racking – and this was at a time when Linford Christie dominated the sprinting world and Sebastian Coe was all about running on the track versus running the Olympics. Now, as an adult, I still get the same nervousness watching the ‘greatest sporting event in the world’ but that nervousness now comes more from the feeling that as I hurtle towards 40 I will never have the body of an athlete.

But as a marketer and communicator I find the Olympics to be a fascinating event. Despite the International Olympic Committee slapping the threat of legal action on all non-sponsors who use the words ‘Olympics’ or ‘Rio’ in their marketing communications (to the point I could write a whole separate blog on why that is a bad move by the IOC), the Olympics provides an interesting opportunity for brands – both directly and indirectly related to sports – to flex their brand narrative around the real-time stories and results that such a large scale, global sporting event generates.

But such an approach needs really smart thinking and it requires brands to be very clever with how agile they are with their narrative. When a brand inserts itself into a cultural or sporting event it is key that their narrative is aligned to the narrative of the event otherwise it jars in the eyes of consumers. If a brand cannot immediately align its narrative to that of the event, then they need to use storytelling to bridge their narrative so that it becomes more relevant.

McDonalds, as well as Coca-Cola and Cadbury’s, have come under fierce criticism for the type of image having a fast food chain sponsoring an elite sports event presents. If you looked at the first week conversations, 75% of all McDonalds’ mentions were negative. But this is nothing new for McDonalds, one of the reasons why the brand failed to perform so well in the Euros was for the same issue – here is a brand inserting themselves into an event that most people do not feel is relevant for them to do so. On the surface they are absolutely correct to question McDonald’s motives (even if, as rumours suggest, they are HUGELY popular in the Olympic Village) however what this means for McDonalds is that they have to be on top of their game from a storytelling perspective.  

Unfortunately, this is not the approach that McDonalds seems to have taken as it appears to be focusing on the wrong stories. The series of tweets comparing eating McDonalds food to key sporting events (e.g. Chicken Nugget ‘Tumbling’) missed the point and played to the critics’ negativity that you shouldn’t talk fast food and sport together. These tweets saw far more engagement that the more positive story of McDonalds sending the children and families it supports via the Ronald McDonald Houses Charity. Moreover, as the negative criticism builds, it is pushing McDonalds further away from its ability to tell these more positive stories effectively.

On the other side, brands such as Omega and Atos Origin, who are the official timekeepers and systems integrators respectively, have struggled to tell truly engaging stories despite have so much data at their disposal. Sadly, both brands have resorted to the sort of stories you would have expected that talk to the behind the scenes infrastructure. So what? I’ve seen and heard this at many a sporting event and the only people you are likely to excite, and yes I probably am generalising, are those that work in in the sector. I want to hear the human stories which can be backed up by data – how engaging is that? Well it’s certainly more engaging than learning how much cabling is underneath the Olympic Village.

This all clearly points to the need for brands to live ‘in the now’ to monitor, listen and react to the wealth of chatter originating from the event and to act on the data in real-time in order to produce stories and content as they happen. There’s no doubt that with the world watching the Olympics, being able to mine these moments and live in the now brands can use viewers’ passion and interest in the sport to elevate their own branded conversations. That is, of course, if the IOC allows it.


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