Olympic sponsors still have time to strike gold

Ruth Mortimer

The Olympic Games get underway on Friday, but the marketing of the event still dominates the headlines rather than the competitors. During the Beijing Games in 2008, there was lots of talk of ambush marketing, legacy and sponsor impact but not to the extent that we have already seen in London. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Jacques Rogge has been forced to call for a “common sense” approach after rumours got out of hand about the power of sponsors to veto any sign of rival brands.

Last week, Locog chairman Sebastian Coe warned that wearing a Pepsi T-shirt to the Games might see spectators refused entry because of Coca-Cola’s official sponsorship. While this was dismissed afterwards by Locog, the levels of Olympic marketing rumours are at an all-time high. The confusion and rumours about the impact of the London Olympic and Paralympic Games Act 2006, which protects sponsors’ rights, appear to extend even to the organisers.

The mother of an injured soldier was reportedly told to remove a Help for Heroes wristband during the Olympic Torch Relay. Cafe Olympic in Stratford, east London, has now apparently become Cafe Lympic. And a bakery that hung up bagels in the shape of the Olympic rings has apparently been asked to take them down.

With so much being done to protect Olympic sponsors, you might expect them to be hard at work promoting themselves. So the message of our cover story comes as a surprise – only a few sponsors appear to be significantly benefiting from their association with London 2012.

We didn’t use anecdotal evidence for this assertion. We compared data from YouGov’s social media audience measurement tool SoMA with its BrandIndex, which measures brand health. By comparing the figures, YouGov was able to determine that the Olympics hasn’t been among the top five topics mentioned in relation to most of the sponsors since the Torch Relay began.

But does it matter that people are not tweeting about brands’ Olympic involvement? Perhaps not, but social networks do tend to be a mirror held up to consumers’ conversations generally.

The good news, however, is there is still time for sponsors to turn this situation around. The Olympics and Paralympics last for just a few weeks but the legacy of the Games is likely to live on in London for years to come. The sponsors that are part of the Olympic legacy conversation could still attract the right sort of social media discussion on an ongoing basis. Ultimately, that would be worth far more in the long term.

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