Advertising's Olympic-Size Problem

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h1 In the dust of defeat as well as the laurels of victory there is a glory to be found.

Eric Liddell, Chariots of Fire

A summer festival of sport in Europe stretches out before us like never before. From the Euro 2012 football pitches of Poland and Ukraine to tennis at Wimbledon, Lords cricket, and the London Olympics – this summer will bring Britain its biggest sporting marathon in 50 years. Like the athletes and players they hope to associate themselves with, marketers will be planning their summer carefully and looking to strike gold. According to a Nielsen study, in 2008 Chinese advertising spending increased 40% during the Beijing Olympics. London 2012 is a different market in a different economic climate, but media commentators still refer to the Olympic effect when forecasting ad spending this year.

What's behind the love affair between advertisers and sport? Studies regularly show that consumers find it difficult to correctly identify event sponsors, never mind fringe advertisers. So is it really worth the premium?

Last Bastion of Mass Audience

Advertisers love sport because in a fragmenting media world, it is the last bastion of a mass audience. Over 20 million viewers in the UK tuned in to the 2010 World Cup final while UK internet traffic increased by 500% during the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics. And it’s the right kind of audience, those predominantly upmarket males who love to buy new TVs, beer and snacks. The attraction is obvious, and yet that is the problem. Fifty-five brands will be officially associated with London 2012 with a further fifteen sponsoring the football Euro 2012 finals. With the addition of any number of other advertisers seeking to take advantage of the sporting summer, audience attention will be scarce.

So how do marketers turn sporting passion into attention for their brand? Official sponsorship allows brands to be closer to the action, to exclusively communicate in and around the stadiums and benefit from the association with the event. Yet for every sponsor who is correctly recalled by consumers, their rivals are usually also thought to be involved. After Beijing, Adidas was correctly identified by 28% of survey respondents as an official Games sponsor yet 15% believed that Nike was an Olympic partner too. In the marketing maelstrom of major sporting events it’s difficult to stand out and be heard.

The Key Is Engaging Experiences

Coca-Cola occupied a third of all bus shelters in Beijing during the 2008 Olympics in what was described as ‘the biggest ever outdoor campaign in China.’ Research showed that they achieved favourability among Chinese consumers but failed to convert that into market share in the competition with Pepsi.

In South Africa, ahead of the 2010 World Cup, Nike placed an LED screen on the side of the tallest building in Johannesburg and encouraged football fans to send messages of support from Twitter, Facebook and MXit, a hundred of which were displayed on the screen each night. The screen was visible from the Soccer City stadium and right across central Johannesburg marrying mass coverage with an engaging experience. Even Kobe Bryant sent a message of support and Nike came out of the World Cup with almost every media publication in South Africa proclaiming their marketing victory over the official sponsors.

London 2012 will be the most digitally connected Olympics ever and is an unrivalled vehicle to reach a mass audience. Embracing and truly engaging that audience is going to be the key to going for gold.

Dan Watson is Solutions Director for SAY Media UK.