Inspiring a positive attitude

In order to host the 2012 Olympic games, London not only had to try to convince the IOC, but gain the support of the British public. An impressive integrated marketing campaign proved highly effective

Today (Wednesday), the International Olympic Committee announces which city has been successful in its bid to host the 2012 Olympic Games. There has been much activity organised by the London bid team over the past year, both at home and abroad, in an effort to secure a win for London. But with only 117 international IOC decision- makers to influence, some might question why “engaging the hearts and minds” of the British public was so important.

Yet the purpose of the £20m (estimated value, source: COI Communications) advertising campaign was to do just that, because an enthusiastic British public is a key judging requirement for the IOC. This meant that people had to show their support not just in opinion polls, but through registering their support online, via text messages and at events around London – by May 20, 2 million people had registered their support for the bid.

Communications comprised advertising, mostly posters and billboards situated in and around public transport hubs, and public relations activity. Given that the bid team had no access to funds for marketing (all hoardings and ad sites were provided free of charge), great reliance was placed on non-paid-for media. Publicis Groupe-owned i to i research was brought on board to evaluate the marketing communications at a critical juncture for the campaign, in January 2005. Two waves of research were conducted using Ciao’s online panel to measure support for the bid and to determine how marketing activity could be fine-tuned to sustain momentum in the closing stages.

The research showed that where advertising for the London bid created a climate for support, PR activity gave people reasons to support the bid, through communication of benefits. By the end of January, the campaign had saturated London and the rest of the UK, with 98 per cent of Londoners and 91 per cent of Britons outside the capital having seen some form of communication about the bid. Aided recall of advertising and PR were high in their own right with 87 per cent and 94 per cent in London respectively. Furthermore, 83 per cent of Londoners had been exposed to both advertising and PR activity.

The poster advertising that ran in London, mainly on transport routes, carried the taglines “Back the Bid” and “Make London Proud” and had strong resonance: 35 per cent of Londoners were able to cite these themes unprompted. A similar analysis of media coverage shows that “regeneration of East London” proved to be a message that also stuck in people’s minds.

In addition to controlled publicity, there was great deal of “noise” around the bid from uncontrolled activity. Media coverage showed that a significant proportion of articles and news items were negative in content – focusing on the cost of hosting the Olympic Games and the Queen’s inadvertent remark about how Paris would be likely to win. This was reflected in the primary research, which showed that many people were concerned about the cost implications of hosting the games – 19 per cent mentioned this unprompted.

Of greater interest, however, is how this message was being picked up and transmitted virally. The research showed that 59 per cent of people had conversations about the bid with friends, family or colleagues, and that a third of those were negative in nature. There was a risk that some of this negative feeling would have a negative impact on the opinions of a group dubbed “swing supporters”. As a result, efforts were doubled by the 2012 bid team to shore up support, with the IOC’s visit to London in May providing the opportunity to communicate the upside of the UK hosting the games.

Following the IOC’s May visit, i to i commissioned a further wave of research to establish if the communication had been effective in consolidating the public’s support. It showed that despite negative press, support for the bid had been maintained and that claimed registration increased from 14 per cent to 21 per cent in London from January to May.

This research shows the importance of undertaking integrated planning and evaluation when conducting an integrated campaign. Continuous evaluation meant that PR was able to play a vital role in communicating the positive aspects of the bid and in mitigating much of the negative effect of adverse media coverage. Whether the London bid team has been successful in winning the support of the IOC or not, its integrated approach to research and marketing was well-received and achieved high levels of awareness.

Trends is edited by Nathalie Kilby. Claire Spencer, chief executive if i to i research, contributed.

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