Olympics 2016: Team GB on doping and building a modern British brand through partnership marketing

Team GB is turning the traditional sponsorship model on its head, instead forging collaborative brand partnerships, says head of marketing Leah Davis.

Aldi Team GB
Aldi is seeing the biggest engagement of all the Team GB sponsors so far in Rio.

Brands have got to take a collaborative approach to content creation by creating true partnerships with sponsors – that is the biggest lesson to come from the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, according to Team GB’s head of marketing Leah Davis.

“The heyday of sponsorship where you splash a logo and pay a fee is over, and that’s no bad thing,” she says. “This is forcing sponsors to be creative, considered and insightful, working together to produce better content.”

When choosing partners, Team GB is focused on those that drive performance and fan engagement.

“We want them to be bold, brave and willing to work on innovative campaigns and new ways of engaging,” she says. “Look at what Aldi has done with its fresh British produce campaign and how it is now reaping the rewards.”

As the official supermarket of Team GB, Aldi is leading the engagement stakes with 2,335 mentions, according to the Waggener Edstrom Communications’ Brand Agility Index. The index analyses a campaign’s scalability, relevance, engagement, originality, personalisation and sentiment across news and social, looking for mentions that include both the brand’s name and the Olympics on a tweet, for example.

Aldi is closely followed by Adidas (1,867 mentions) and Nissan (1,776), with Deloitte (107), Kellogg’s (41) and Fitness First (16) lagging behind.

As part of its campaign, Nissan pranked Team GB and ParalympicsGB athletes, as they prepared to compete at the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Brand Britain

Doping scandals continue to rock the Games, with negative reaction from fans and athletes alike to the fresh wave of allegations to hit the Russian Olympic team. While Davis acknowledges this is an issue for the sports world, she does not believe the Team GB brand is tarnished.

“Team GB has always had a really straight line on doping; we do not approve of it and take a more extreme stance than lots of organisations. We are open about this and we have a strong viewpoint,” she says.

In the four years after London 2012 Team GB worked on developing its brand, going back to basics to promote its goal of uniting sports fans and inspiring them in the pursuit of excellence.

“We do not approve of [doping] and take a more extreme stance than lots of organisations.”

Leah Davis, Team GB

“We really wanted to retain the powerful emotional connection between athletes and their fans, so they can feel like the nation is with them. We did this through storytelling. Fans want to know about the athletes as people and what they do on a Friday night.”

Davis has seen real demand for stories about the athletes on the road to Rio, as athletics fans love to follow a success story and discover the next big thing in sport. She believes sharing these stories on social media has helped maintain interest among both fans and partners, with Team GB benefitting from the growing interest in the Winter Olympics during the non-summer Olympic years.

READ MORE: Can the Rio Olympics live up to London 2012 for brands?

Team GB has a considered digital strategy broken down by channel. Whereas Facebook is used to present an engaging story and photo galleries, Twitter is the breaking news channel and Instagram is dedicated to rich imagery. Davis says Snapchat is best for behind-the-scenes, gritty images that are not overly produced or polished, with plans underway for a Snapchat athlete takeover.

“We see ourselves as a modern British brand that is approachable, cheerful and elite without being elitist.”

Leah Davis, Team GB

This element of social storytelling plays into Team GB’s image as an accessible brand, Davis adds. “Ultimately we see ourselves as a modern British brand that is approachable, cheerful and elite without being elitist.”

Collaborative approach

On a global scale, the WE study shows brands that have failed to refresh their content strategy are paying the price, with Olympic sponsor P&G attracting criticism for the re-release of its 2012 ‘Thank you Mum’ campaign. To date P&G has attracted 1,341 mentions versus top sponsor Samsung’s 14,000, led by the popularity of the tech company’s national anthem mash up video.

Samsung 14,000 mentions
Coca-Cola 5,651 mentions
Visa 3,702 mentions
McDonald’s 3,445 mentions
Omega 1,675 mentions
Dow Chemicals 1,436 mentions
P&G 1,341 mentions
Atos 1,282 mentions
GE 1,140 mentions
Toyota 763 mentions

From a Team GB perspective, Davis believes success is determined by the in-depth work her team engages in with each sponsor, which can involve months of discussions on the best forms of content to engage fans and achieve their shared objectives.

“We act in a central position to ensure the campaigns don’t overlap and carve out different areas for each activation. The athletes are our most in-demand asset, so we want to work with our marketing partners to deliver interesting campaigns.

“We take content creation seriously and we would not publish something we don’t feel proud of,” Davis adds.

Reacting to wider criticism of the involvement of ‘fast food’ brands like Coca-Cola and McDonald’s in the sponsorship of the world’s leading sporting event, Team GB’s head of marketing believes this is a simplistic assessment that fails to recognise a brand’s wider portfolio.

“That is a very single-minded view. If you look at any of the partners we work with they have a wider holistic view on what they want to achieve around achieving a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle.

“We strongly believe in taking an all encompassing approach and working closely with our FMCG brands in particular to adapt recipes that feed through all the way to the athletes. There are sponsored products in the athletes’ village approved by nutritionists.”

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