The build-up to the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, which kick off this Friday (5 August), has been far from ideal.
The World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) has recommended all Russian athletes be banned from Rio after finding evidence of a four-year “doping programme” across the “vast majority” of Olympic sports. And while the IOC decided not to impose a blanket ban, all Russian athletes from athletics and weightlifting have been banned, while others are being considered on a case-by-case basis.
Meanwhile, concerns over the Zika virus’ presence in Brazil has led to high-profile stars such as golfer Rory Mcllory dropping out completely, and Team GB stars such as Jessica Ennis-Hill and Greg Rutherford raising public concerns.
There has even been confusion about what brands can actually say around the Games. The US Olympics Committee is accused of “bullying” firms that are not official sponsors after warning the likes of ESPN that their online accounts should not reference any Olympic results, share or re-tweet anything from the official Olympic account, or use official hashtags including #Rio2016.
Matching London 2012 buzz
Adam Zavalis, marketing director of Aldi, a sponsor of Team GB through to Tokyo 2020, says the key for participating brands will be to focus on being “supporters first” and not getting too wrapped up in controversy.
He advises: “The BOA’s view on doping is clear – anyone found proven should face the most severe sanction. Our focus is on being a great supporter and championing Team GB during the Games.”
But with such a negative backdrop, Ron Chakraborty, head of major events at BBC Sport, admits it’s a big ask expecting Rio 2016 to match the huge success of London four years ago.
“In the build-up to every major event there are nearly always controversial news stories – sometimes it’s the political backdrop of the host country, sometimes it’s related to the athletes, very often it’s whether the venues will be ready,” he explains.
“But usually once the games start those stories tend to be overtaken by the sport. Yes, it’s asking a lot for Rio 2016 to match up to London but we still expect the British public to embrace the Olympics in a big way.”
Aldi is one brand hoping buzz can match London 2012 levels. Rio marks the German discounter’s first Olympic Games since announcing its sponsorship of Team GB last year and its ‘We’ve Gone Totally Rio’ campaign is being backed with a serious budget.
With TV and social creatives featuring Aldi’s comedic elderly mascot Jean, the multimedia campaign will also see Aldi stocking official Team GB merchandise, adding new Brazillian-themed food products into stores and hosting 11 fanzones across the UK in a bid to raise hype.
Battling the time difference
However, research has suggested brands such as Aldi might struggle to reach British consumers during Rio 2016. According to shopper marketing agency Savvy, 56% of consumers have failed to consider the time difference and how it will impact watching events, with 53% of British consumers less likely to watch the Rio Olympics than London 2012
But the time difference isn’t a concern to Aldi’s Zavalis, who claims it will force brands to be more creative in digital channels.
“With some of the action taking place in the middle of the night we need to be creative and agile in how we communicate our message and ensure we reach our audience. We actually see this as an opportunity to stand out from other sponsors and, as per our Aldi DNA, we’re excited about doing things differently,” he explains.
And the BBC’s Chakraborty says the time difference, of four hours, won’t be too distracting, as he points to the high viewing figures sustained in previous Olympic Games held in locations such as Sydney and Beijing.
“We still expect lots of committed viewers to stay up for the athletics and swimming finals and if not there are lots of ways to catch-up with the action the following morning.”
Ron Chakraborty, head of major events, BBC Sport
Appealing to fans
Aldi’s Zavalis believes fan enagement via social will be a key point of difference for sponsors. “We will be encouraging our audience to go ‘Totally Rio’ with us, engaging them in our social media channels and involving them in everything that Team GB and Aldi stand for,” he reveals.
“During the games over 650 Team GB members, who have been receiving £25 of Aldi vouchers per month to spend in-store, will be sharing recipes they have made and photos of their experiences in Aldi stores.”
Focusing on fans could be wise, with brands with a “fan focus” and “clearly communicated social values” the biggest winners at Wimbledon and Euro 2016, according to a recent sponsor effectiveness barometer by Waggener Edstrom Communications [WE].
And major sponsor Visa is also making these themes a key focus. “The IOC has given 10 refugee athletes the chance to compete in Rio, and we are sponsoring them as new additions to Team Visa to really bring to the forefront the role of acceptance at the Games,” says Suzy Brown, Visa’s director of sponsorships and partnerships.
“Fans of the Olympic Games are a key focus of our European campaign, which will reach 25 markets, with one of the activations being the Visa guest programme. It will see over 300 lucky Visa cardholders travel to Rio, having taken part in various activations in these territories.”
A ‘stop-gap’ ahead of Tokyo 2020
Another driver of brand success in Rio hinges on the Games establishing new crossover stars, according to Steve Martin, chief executive of M&C Saatchi Sport & Entertainment. He says the tournament “must go beyond Usain Bolt and create new superstars for brands to tap into”.
Unlike the BBC, Martin expects the negativity surrounding Rio to continue well into the Games. Subsequently, he believes brands that place an emphasis on comedy will be able to successfully counter all the negative headlines.
“The Samsung Team GB school stuff with Jack Whitehall is very good as the public wants to see some juxtaposition and to have some fun, with all the negativity out there,” he adds. “I’d expect what Samsung is doing to be a winning strategy for Rio sponsors.”
There has been mixed signals around Rio’s potential success. With a hefty reported price tag of up to £64 million for its main sponsors such as Coca Cola and Visa, digital agency Greenlight has claimed almost half (47%) of UK consumers believe sponsoring the event won’t impact their perception of a brand.
However, according to Google, the Rio Olympics has driven the most search interest on YouTube over the last 12 months, gaining more views than the last World Cup and the past two UEFA European Championships. Over the last year, it says more than 23,000 years of content has been watched on YouTube across athletics, diving and swimming, gymnastics and volleyball.
Ultimately, Martin says Rio 2016 – despite its “undeniable global audience” – will most likely be a stop-gap ahead of Tokyo 2020.
He concludes: “With all the controversy, brands will just want to come out of Rio unscathed and then build and go again in Toyko, which you’d expect to have less controversy and to be a bigger focus as it’s such a huge market.”