The Sochi 2014 Marketing Olympics, Part 2: Brand Activation Highlights

Having written yesterday about the LBGT controversy and the latest developments in IOC sponsorship, today I'm turning to the key brand activation strategies and stories around the Sochi Games.

Play Russian

Unlike a summer Olympics or a FIFA World Cup, the Winter Olympics doesn't bring with it a big, global Nike campaign. Sochi 2014 is lower-priority and lower-spend than the World Cup for Nike, because in terms of worldwide interest, the winter Olympics is nowhere near as big as a World Cup, as illustrated by this Twitter heatmap.


Nike's Sochi playbook has strong echoes of Vancouver 2010: focus on the host market; fusion of Nike attitude with national identity; hockey at its core (Nike sponsors the Russian, US and Canadian hockey teams). 'Play Russian' features Nike's key Russian endorsees across a range of sports, led by Russian hockey icon and Games poster boy Alex Ovechkin, as well as a very cool website.
Of the other sportswear brands, the Jamaican bobsled team qualifying for Sochi was good news for Jamaican NOC sponsors Puma, but even better for adidas, when adidas-branded pictures of the Cool Runnings movie instantly flooded the web; and Under Armour has had a Games to forget, first owing to the withdrawal of Lindsey Vonn, and then by making a ton of the wrong kind of headlines about the performance of its speed skating suits.

No Logo?

The IOC famously prides itself on making the Olympics as advertising-free as possible, but the snowboarders' gear in Sochi has been branded like no Olympics before, with the brands involved pushing the IOC's regulations to the limit. This drew this observation at the start of the Games from our head of consulting Carsten Thode:

Carsten Sochi

Subsequently brandchannel followed up on the same subject with this very good piece: expect to see this particular loophole narrowed, if not closed, by the time we get to Pyeongchang 2018.

There was also the curious case of Alexey Sobolev, aka the Pussy Riot board artwork that wasn't, and the cellphone number that was. Or something like that.

And while we're on the subject, check out this very cool interactive guide to the gear of the Games by the NYT.    

The Return of the Brand Police

Games officials doing daft things as 'brand police' - supposedly to protect the Games' sponsors, but actually doing the absolute reverse by creating negative stories - is a thing again in Sochi.

In London in was LOCOG's mishandling of local butchers and bakers, and Seb Coe's infamous 'Pepsi t-shirts' Today programme interview. In Sochi it's officials covering up journalists' laptop logos.




Sochi USA

What happens in the USA - the biggest and most valuable Olympic TV market - around every Games is always worth watching.

This time around of course, Sochi followed hot on the heels of the Super Bowl, and Bloomberg took this fascinating look at the two events as TV properties and the numbers behind NBC's deal with the IOC, estimating that NBC will make a profit of around $100m from Sochi on revenue of $1billion, from the sale of 11,000 - yes, you read that right, eleven thousand - ads.

No surprise then that NBC put a lot of effort into marketing the Games upfront to the US consumer as well as to Madison Avenue (note the prominence of Lindsey Vonn by the way).

The sales pitch to IOC and USOC partners worked. As SportsBusiness Journal reports, fifteen Olympic sponsors are running ads on NBC during the Games, almost all of them featuring new, specially-developed creative.

But the jury is out on NBC's ratings, even though the overall numbers are pretty impressive.


Breaking New Ground

A few sponsors' campaigns - or elements of them - that have caught my eye in the last few weeks.

Albeit I may be biased (Synergy works for BMW in the UK) but for me the BMW campaign has really stood out from the other USOC sponsors for its depth, ambition and integration, as well as for telling and leveraging the bobsled story very skilfully. 

P&G has evolved its successful 'Thank You Mom' campaign, which debuted at Vancouver 2010, into Sochi, and in the week before the Games I enjoyed how P&G fused branded programming on NBC (a show called 'How To Raise An Olympian') with social content - check out my Storify. But - albeit it's still generating very high engagement - how long can P&G keep 'Thank You Mom' going? One more Games? Two?

I've also really enjoyed a lot of Visa's work. 'Everywhere' feels very natural in an Olympic context, some of the creative has been absolutely sensational, and the use of Vine has been original and fun. Here's another Storify of some of the work.

I wrote a few weeks back how much I liked MegaFon's MegaFaces, the success of which is evident from how many consumer pictures of the activation are now out there.

But my favourite on-site activation at Sochi is definitely Molson's passport-activated beer fridge.


The Sochi 2014 Marketing Olympics, Part 1: The (One) Issue Games

...Beijing, Vancouver, London, Sochi. Every Olympics Games evolves the Olympic brand, and evolves Olympic Marketing. With Sochi 2014 now into its second week, every day this week I'll be taking a look at the key marketing issues, campaigns and stories of the latest edition of the Marketing Olympics, kicking off today with the LBGT controversy and the latest developments in IOC sponsorship.

The (One) Issue Games 

The run-up to every Olympics is always full of negative headlines and controversy, and Sochi was no exception, but with one issue absolutely dominant: the global protests against Russia's anti-gay legislation, led by POTUS's decision back in December to stay away from Sochi and to nominate Billie-Jean King in the US delegation, rising to a crescendo of campaigns and stories in the final weeks pre-Games.

Inevitably, these saw Games sponsors targeted both by campaigners and the media, in particular McDonalds, whose global #CheersToSochi campaign was hijacked so powerfully on social media that McDonalds has effectively withdrawn it, now barely referencing it in its comms, with the campaign website registering only a few thousand cheers - not exactly what McDonalds would have had in mind.

Cheers To Sochi website

Re-wind to Beijing 2008, the last 'issue' Games, when global protests about China's human rights record targeted the international sections of Olympic Torch Relay, prompting the IOC to limit the Torch Relay to host countries only.But who needs Torch Relay demos when you now have globally-distributed social media?And why has the IOC done so little to publicly engage with the issue? President Bach's Opening Ceremony speech was to be applauded, but was too little, too late.

Problem not solved.

And protests not going away.

The ethics of how Mega Events are awarded, where they are staged, and what they are for, is not going away for the IOC or FIFA. Next after the Sochi Olympics comes the 2014 FIFA World Cup, already highly controversial in Brazil and sure to see more of the protests which marked last year's Confederations Cup and saw FIFA sponsors' and other brands' campaigns hijacked. Following which we have Rio 2016 and Russia 2018, with Qatar 2022 - already the most controversial World Cup of all time - ever-present in the background.

What Sochi 2014 has again proved, if further proof were needed, is that the IOC must radically overhaul its approach to protest and how it handles controversy, if it is to safeguard and evolve the Olympic brand and create a positive environment for its sponsors and NOC sponsors worldwide. Not to mention justify an increased price tag for TOP deals, of which more below.

Meanwhile, not much doubt that the LBGT protests have produced the ad of the Games, Luge. When I first spotted and tweeted it a couple of weeks back it had only 4,000 views on YouTube: now, that's grown to over 5 million and quite right too. Sensational.

2024 At The Double

The IOC has announced two extensions to TOP deals during Sochi: Atos, to 2020, and Panasonic, in a move which took everybody by surprise, to 2024.

Patrick Nally hit the nail on the head.


Panasonic was widely expected to extend, particularly after Tokyo won the right to host the 2020 Games, but only to 2020, in line with the other global Olympic sponsors, and to allow for a much-mooted IOC review of the TOP programme post-Sochi.Where the Panasonic extension leaves all that is now the big issue in Olympic sponsorship, particularly as it is also now being reported by SportsBusiness Journal (SBJ) that the contract is worth $350m-$400m, thereby doubling TOP prices in the most recent deal cycle.

SBJ has underlined its position as the must-read for anyone in the business with some great reporting from Sochi by Tripp Mickle on IOC sponsorship issues. Both these are worth a read: outgoing chair of the IOC Marketing Commission Gerhard Heiberg interviewed - interestingly, he calls out Samsung as the deal which has added the most value to a TOP sponsor; and the IOC has stopped the Sochi 2014 Organising Committee from projecting sponsors' logos on the outside of some of the Sochi arenas in view of TV broadcasters' cameras.

Tripp also had some nice takes on Twitter on new IOC President Thomas Bach's appearances at sponsors' showcases in Sochi:

Tripp Bach Sochi tweets

The days of Jacques Rogge are well and truly over.

Five Things The IOC Can Learn From The #SelfieOlympics

In early 2012, to denote the collision between mass-adoption social media and the Olympics, Synergy coined the term 'Socialympics', which subsequently went viral (even being adopted by the IOC), and staged two panel sessions in front of invited audiences either side of London 2012 to discuss the Socialympics phenomenon. (If you missed them, you can find a round-up of Socialympics 1 here and Socialympics 2 here).Fast forward to today, and in the days leading up to Sochi 2014, the first big internet meme of 2014 is the #SelfieOlympics, which has seen teens and young adults compete to top one another with selfies which vary from the extreme to the bizarre and everything in between. You haven't seen one? ('WHAT ARE YOU 30?!' as MTV wrote recently). Here's an early example: 


I can't say that we predicted the #SelfieOlympics back in our 2012 Socialympics sessions (now that would have been something), but I can say that we focused on an issue highlighted by the #SelfieOlympics: the enormous potential of social media to help the IOC address one of its biggest challenges - making the Olympics relevant and accessible to teens and young adults, and reverse the ageing Olympic demographic worldwide.

So, here's five things I'd suggest that the IOC and the Olympic Movement could learn from the #SelfieOlympics about marketing to the young.

1. The young get 'Faster, Higher, Stronger'. For any brand manager that would be good news: for the IOC, in a world full of brands with much bigger budgets competing for the young's attention and understanding, it's amazing news.

2. If you want the young to get into your brand, above all let them have some fun with it. This is not natural territory for the IOC, which has a tendency to be over-worthy, but it's territory they need to embrace.       

3. Your best marketers are your consumers. If the next generation is capable of spontaneously creating and spreading an idea as entertaining and viral as the #SelfieOlympics, who knows what else they can come up with? Invite them to play around some more with your brand.

4. If you want to market the Olympics to the young, think beyond sport. The #SelfieOlympics has done as much for the Olympic brand with the young as the Youth Olympic Games, which hasn't ever come close to going viral.

5. If the Olympic brand can go viral in this way once, it can do it again. The IOC and its stakeholders can make this happen: start with athletes posting #SelfieOlympics pics at Sochi, say.