On your marks to be a serious brand contender

It is less than two years until the start of the London Olympics and sponsors will seriously have to up their game in the awareness stakes if they are to gain a strong advantage from the Games.

London 2012 is giving brands what could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to engage with a British public united by national pride. But with less than two years to go until the Olympic flame reaches the stadium in Stratford, consumer awareness is slow-burning when it comes to the event’s official partners.

Less than a third of UK consumers are able to name a sponsor of either the London Games or the wider Olympic movement without being prompted, according to research seen exclusively by Marketing Week. Since the turn of the year, research company IFM Sports Marketing Surveys (SMS) has carried out two nationally representative studies of attitudes and awareness. One assesses London 2012 Tier One official partners, which was conducted between January and March; and one looks at brands within the global Olympic Partner (TOP) programme, which took place between April and July.

In both surveys, at least two-thirds of people say they “don’t know” any brand associated with the Olympics. Consumers are also apparently unable to distinguish between local sponsors of London 2012 and global TOP sponsors. The three brands people are most aware of are the same for both studies: Lloyds TSB (a London partner), Coca-Cola and McDonald’s (both TOP sponsors). The highest level of spontaneous awareness in either survey is for Coca-Cola, which 9.6% of consumers named as a TOP sponsor.

Consumers’ interest in the Games is still far from peaking, says SMS research director John Bushell. “Interest in 2010 has been on events such as the FIFA World Cup in South Africa.”

Tanya Veingard, senior manager for London 2012 partnership at Lloyds Banking Group, concurs, adding that she expects “a number of major announcements over the next few months” from the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (Locog).

She says: “Now that we are in the two-year run-up to the Games and we have had the World Cup this year, the country’s focus – as well as Locog’s and the other sponsors’ focus – will be on the fact that we now have two years to build our association with the Games.”

Although the sponsors and Locog clearly wish to avoid burning out enthusiasm so far in advance of the event, some observers are critical of the lack of marketing activity so far. In an opinion article, which ran in The Times during August, Travelodge executive chairman Grant Hearn called the existing plan to take advantage of tourism opportunities provided by the Olympics and Paralympics “frankly pathetic”.

Following Green Britain Day in 2009, EDF Energy was the most recalled 2012 sponsor by the public

Gareth Wynn, EDF

By contrast, organisers of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics agreed a five-year plan to bolster tourism, according to Greg Klassen, senior vice-president for marketing at the Canadian Tourism Commission. This involved creating a brand proposition, websites, images and footage with the ultimate aim of moving Canada’s image away from the stereotypical associations of “moose, mountains and mounties”.

But he adds: “Marketing and promotion [of the event] tends to come with the one-year countdown to the Olympics.” Brands also have different approaches according to the audiences they target, he says.

Bushell at SMS notes that sponsors might be more concerned about other marketing measures than awareness. He says: “The Games have a number of core values that can transfer across to a brand, and so awareness may not be the reason for association. It is about changing or creating brand engagement with the sponsor’s key targets – especially for business-to-business sponsors – or about reputation building.”

For example, Deloitte has been conducting quarterly measurements for more than two years to assess what work has been won as a result of being a supplier to the Olympics, as well as its success rate in bids for contracts where Olympic credentials are mentioned. Director of sponsorship Annabel Pritchard says: “We know that bids that include the London 2012 credentials have a higher win rate than those that do not.”

Cisco UK marketing director Ian Symes says the efficacy of the technology his brand provides will be the most important factor for marketing itself to the audience that matters. “We have a very targeted B2B audience within our market segments, and it is within that population we have been measuring the benefits.”

More specific aims than general awareness are also prevalent among the Tier Three official suppliers and providers, according to a series of interviews carried out by business information company Pearlfinders and shown exclusively to Marketing Week.

These companies are less likely to count on the media exposure that will be enjoyed by the headline sponsors. Pearlfinders managing director Anthony Cooper says: “Third tier sponsors are more focused on employee engagement and corporate social responsibility.”

Local Heroes
Local Heroes: A programme through which Olympic athletes of the future receive funding

Nonetheless, Cisco’s Symes adds, even business customers are themselves consumers. While you might not expect consumer awareness to be high at present, if awareness remains persistently low, brands might sense a greater need to fuel wider interest. “It would worry me if in six to nine months’ time the results are the same because most brands will be ramping up their marketing activity,” he says.

As well as awareness, SMS’s data relates to consumer attitudes towards both the Games and individual brands. More than half of consumers believe the association with the Olympics is either “very appropriate” or “quite appropriate” for all the brands except one. A majority, 58%, said McDonald’s sponsorship is either “not very appropriate” or “not at all appropriate”.

Though McDonald’s did not address these particular results when put to it, a spokesman for the company says: “Few food service companies could meet the sheer scale and challenge of providing an estimated 14 million meals in just four weeks to 9.7 million spectators, a workforce of 200,000 and 17,000 athletes and team officials.”

It is, perhaps, with the aim of increasing the alignment between a brand’s values and those of the Olympic movement that all the brands avow a strong focus on community in their present activities. As Pearlfinders’ Cooper comments: “All participating brands are keen to reflect some of London 2012’s signature messages of health and wellbeing, sustainability, and community inclusion.”

EDF Energy’s Team Green Britain and Green Britain Day initiatives are examples of this community approach. According to Gareth Wynn, group director of the energy company’s 2012 Programme, the brand has sought to use the Olympics and Paralympics as engagement tools to “help people reduce their carbon footprint” by 2012. This has had benefits of its own in terms of awareness, according to research commissioned by EDF. “Following Green Britain Day in 2009, EDF Energy was the most recalled 2012 sponsor by the public,” claims Wynn.

Any brand must go into Olympic sponsorship with its eyes open to the marketing efforts that will be required and the restrictions placed on its activities. Locog requires sign-off for all campaigns using London 2012 assets, for example. Furthermore, in the International Olympic Committee’s Olympic marketing fact file, it is stated explicitly that one of the fundamental objectives of Olympic marketing is “to control and limit the commercialisation of the Olympic Games”. The movement seeks to protect, above all, its own brand equity.

As SMS’s Bushell puts it: “The Olympic Games have ‘clean stadia’, hence the top partners need to activate their sponsorship away from the arena to create awareness and engagement.”

Lloyds
Head start: Lloyds TSB backs events inschools as part of its Olympics sponsorship

Case study Lloyds TSB

The first brand to sign up as a London 2012 official partner in 2007, Lloyds TSB was out of the blocks early. And sprinting ahead of the rest of the pack appears to be paying off. According to research conducted by IFM Sports Marketing Surveys earlier this year, it is the company most recognised as a London sponsor when consumers are not prompted with names of brands, though this only amounts to being named by 8.5% of people.

Its Olympics-related activities so far include organising National School Sport Week, bringing the Olympic format (including torch relays, and opening and closing ceremonies) to school sports days. Under its Local Heroes programme, meanwhile, the brand provides funding for 300 young athletes who are potential Olympians and Paralympians of the future. Lloyds TSB is also the sole national partner of the Olympic torch relay, organising local events to celebrate the arrival of the flame.

On the business-facing side of the brand, a section of the Lloyds TSB website is dedicated to informing British companies how they can become involved in the Olympics and win work supplying to the Games.

Tanya Veingard, the banking group’s senior manager for London 2012 partnership says: “We measure how we are performing against other Olympic sponsors as well as how our awareness tracks against other financial services firms involved in big sponsorship.”

Though overall unprompted awareness of the London 2012 sponsors – and those of the Olympic movement itself – is low, Veingard says that Lloyds TSB intends to “up the ante” in its marketing now that the Games are less than two years away.

The sponsors

  • The Olympic Partner (TOP) programme: Acer, Atos Origin, Coca-Cola, Dow, General Electric, McDonald’s, Omega, Panasonic, Procter & Gamble, Samsung, Visa
  • London 2012 official partners (Tier One): Adidas, BMW, BP, British Airways, BT, EDF Energy, Lloyds TSB
  • London 2012 official supporters (Tier Two): Adecco, ArcelorMittal, Cadbury, Cisco, Deloitte, Thomas Cook, UPS
  • London 2012 official suppliers and providers (Tier Three): Airwave, Atkins, The Boston Consulting Group, CBS Outdoor, Crystal CG, Eurostar, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP, GlaxoSmithKline, Gymnova, Holiday Inn, John Lewis, McCann Worldgroup, Mondo, Next, The Nielsen Company, Populous, Technogym, Ticketmaster, Trident
  • London 2012 official partner of the Paralympic Games: Sainsbury’s

Source: www.london2012.com (correct at time of going to press)

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