The first thing anyone in sponsorship learns about the Olympic Games is that the Field of Play is sacrosanct. No advertising or commercial branding. No marques or sponsorship identification on any athlete uniforms, save from a Nike swoosh here or a Puma feline there. This strict ‘clean venue’ policy is zealously enforced by the powers that be, and underpins the commercial model from The Olympic Partner (TOP) programme, down.
But it is not quite that simple. London 2012 has seen a number of brands appear on the Field of Play and into the eyes and Twitter feeds of fans worldwide. Some of this exposure has even been sanctioned by the IOC. In typical post-event style, here’s the London 2012 Field of Play Top 10.
An unexplained quirk of the Olympic sponsorship programme, and a source of irritation for fellow TOP sponsors; despite the clean-venue approach, Omega was plastered across every timing screen or timing-related piece of equipment at every venue. The brand even featured on the ‘final lap’ bell at the Athletics, the Velodrome and the Aquatics Centre.
A new entry on to the Field of Play for London 2012. Creeping into the Omega realm of explicit but sanctioned Field of Play branding, Panasonic logos were visible on all event screen venues. Screens variously showed spectators scores, replays, venue instructions and films about the rules of Water Polo, the ‘kiss-cam’ and ’bongo-cam’ and the official Muse song and montage. In terms of eyeballs on logos, one for the attendees rather than the TV audience.
Anyone who watched the Athletics cannot have failed to see the remote controlled ‘mini MINIs’ zipping around the Olympic Stadium, retrieving stray javelins, hammers and discuses, as part of BMW’s sponsorship of the Games. Although the car marque was absent, you didn’t have to be a Top Gear devotee to recognise the signature silhouette (or the ‘it’s a MINI adventure’ tagline). And it certainly helped that the Olympic Broadcasting Service regularly zeroed in on the cars to ensure the MINI became a quirky focus of coverage rather than an incidental logo.
Athletes have got to stay well hydrated throughout competition, so inevitably there will be drinks on the Field of Play. At the Olympics, Powerade is the sports drink of choice. While The Coca-Cola Company was required to produce special labels for the Games – reading ‘Sports Drink’ rather than ‘Powerade ION4’ – the signature blue Powerade product would have made it clear to viewers what athletes were consuming.
5. Schweppes Abbey Well
Another Coca-Cola brand that was evident on the Field of Play, again without the brand logo. Instead, the label read ‘Still Water’ in the Abbey Well colours. The fairly recent re-launch of the brand’s identity probably made this a less immediately recognisable brand for many consumers.
While we’re talking hydration, Field of Play exposure does not come much more high profile than the plastic Heineken bottle launched onto the track at the start of the 100m Final. ‘Bottle yob’ was dealt with, but not before global media coverage of the offending item.
Looking at all the above, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the rules are a tad inconsistent – Panasonic branded things they sell (TVs); Omega branded things they don’t (bells); Powerade and Schweppes Abbey Well de-branded their products; while MINI removed their brand but included their tagline (including the word ‘MINI’). I’m sure there’s IOC method somewhere in the madness…
So what about the non-Olympic family, AKA the ambushers? Leaving aside the permitted sportswear logos on athlete kit, a few brands managed to stand out on the Field of Play.
7. Beats by Dre
Dr Dre and his Beats headphones became the most high profile recipient of LOCOG’s policing, but not before the headphones had encroached on to the Field of Play, and become a talking point in the Twittersphere. Inevitably, the clampdown simply brought the oxygen of publicity to Beats’ use by athletes – entirely in keeping with the brand’s endorsement-led strategy. The sweet sound of success for an orchestrated approach that reportedly included a collection point at Shoreditch House for invited athletes.
When your rival has Bolt, how do you grab attention on the track? Bring out the Volt. Nike’s fluorescent yellow / green shoe didn’t contravene any rules and certainly brought a new colour to the track. Of all the colours in the spectrum, the eye is more sensitive to yellow / green than any other (according to the Nike press release). Nike has form when it comes to iconic footwear at major sporting events – from the golden pair given to Michael Johnson in Atlanta in 1996 to the orange boots worn by Nike footballers at the 2010 World Cup.
It will be interesting to see if rivals will copy their ambusher blueprint when Nike moves from poacher to gamekeeper as an official sponsor of Rio 2016.
9. Kinesio Tape
More fluorescent adornment. London 2012 has seen unprecedented use of Kinesio tape in a variety of colours and patterns. According to inventor Dr Kenzo Kase, the Japanese-made tape can help to mend injuries by allowing more movement of fluids below the skin than conventional tape. Interestingly, the scientific research has not proved as sticky as the tape itself. In spite of this, London 2012 has certainly brought it into further the public consciousness, not least as female Beach Volleyball players had a particular penchant for the tape. Cue a fad akin to Robbie Fowler’s nasal strips?
10. Yohan Blake’s watch
Yohan Blake risked a slap on the wrist from the IOC for wearing a custom-made Richard Mille tourbillon watch during the Olympic sprints. It was designed in the Jamaican colours of black, green and yellow, reportedly in an attempt to comply with the regulations. But, as official sponsor of the time pieces category (including watches), Omega will not have seen it that way.
Media exposure analysis of the Field of Play brands would no doubt score Omega top of the chart. Does that mean they take home the sponsorship gold, as suggested below?
Hats off to Omega for emblazoning their logo across a supposedly brand-free environment. If that was the objective they have well and truly succeeded. But sponsorship has evolved from a discipline obsessed by media exposure as a measure of success to focus on relevant engagement. Omega’s exposure is relatively meaningless ‘wallpaper’ that says little about their luxury products and does nothing to connect meaningfully with consumers.
I’m pretty sure there would have been more column inches, tweets and Facebook posts about Blake’s timepiece than the Games-wide Omega timing system. Winning the ‘Field of Play’ gold is about more than maximising brand exposure, it’s about relevant brand or product integration that is amplified and engages with consumers. Not branding for the sake of it, but talking points that generate fan conversations and a become part of the memories from London 2012.
By that measure, there is only one winner for me, and it is operated by remote control. One of the unintended legacies of these Games will be the rush of Rio 2016 sponsors knocking on the IOC’s door to claim their equivalent of MINI’s little adventure at London 2012.
Full disclosure: Synergy worked with The Coca-Cola Company and BMW UK on their London 2012 sponsorships.
By Tom Gladstone on August 14th, 2012
Tags: Ambush Marketing, Athletics, Beach Volleyball, BMW, Brand marketing, Brazil, Brazil 2014, Brazil 2014 Sponsorship, Brazil 2014 Sponsorship Consultants, Default, London 2012 sponsorship, Olympic sponsorship, Olympic sponsorship consultants, Product placement, Rio 2016, Rio 2016 Sponsorship, Rio 2016 Sponsorship Consultants, Social Media, Twitter