London 2012: Top five lessons for sponsors

As London 2012 comes to a glorious end, Marketing Week looks at the top five lessons backers of future Olympics and other events can apply to their sponsorship strategies.


Be generous with your marketing – not restrictive

In an age where people expect brands to give rather than take, sponsors need to protect their Olympic properties in a way that does not exclude consumers. Visa taught other sponsors this lesson at London 2012, with the brand’s ‘Proud to accept only Visa’ stance at Olympic venues coming under heavy criticism for inconveniencing millions of people. It’s a thought not lost on Lloyds’ Olympic marketing chief Sally Hancock who says the financial business wanted to make its marketing strategy revolve around taking “the Games to communities across the UK” to make its campaign feel more inclusive.

She adds: “It was really that insight that lead us to think that supporting young athletes could be the thing that sets us apart from other partners.”

Think big. Act small. Do the unexpected.

This year’s Games saw sponsors such as Cadbury and British Airways fully embrace the spirit of spontaneity around the athletes and their events to become more relevant with potential customers through tactical campaigns. Whether it was David Beckham popping up at Westfield to surprise fans at Adidas’ Olympic photobooth or EDF Energy lighting up the London Eye to reflect the nation’s mood each night, sponsors realised the importance of good PR and experiential activity in bringing the brands closer to consumers during the Games. Norman Brodie, general director for London 2012 at Cadbury, says having a “proactive” communications strategy is vital to making a sponsorship work over a prolonged period of time, adding that it “shouldn’t just about the above-the-line work you do.”

He adds: “PR and events have been just important to our Olympic strategy as our digital work. It’s not always the flashiest work but it’s been critical in giving us a brand authenticity at a time when consumers are very savvy and can see when you’re not being genuine.”


Leave a marketing legacy.

Brands that seek to merely aggregate content around the Games will be marginally successful, but those that use it as a catalyst for a wider conversation will see the long-term benefits. Hancock says, in most, but not all cases Olympic sponsorships play out not just in a wider corporate landscape but also over a longer period of time. P&G is using the London 2012 Games to bring all its products together under its corporate brand for the first time in its 170 year history, while Visa is using the event as a springboard for contactless payments. The financial business hopes the Games will help it to promote payments via smarptones, which it predicts will make up 50 per cent of its card volume by 2020.

Visa’s executive vice president of partnership marketing Colin Grannell, adds: “We set out to use the Games as a test bed for our future payments strategy. It’s not about hospitality or having a party. It’s about demonstrating what we want the future to be in terms of payments.”


Don’t forget your brand.

Beats by Dr Dre’s London 2012 guerrilla stunt provides marketers with a masterclass on how to ambush a sporting event, but it also highlights how important it is to never forget your brand whether you are a sponsor or not. The headphone brand managed to appear on TV screens all over the world during various Olympic events after giving athletes free headphones to wear. There’s a tendency for sponsors to get caught up in the hype around the Games at the expense of their brands, which get lost in a sea of sports related activity that has no real ties to what makes them tick. P&G’s Olympic chief Nathan Homer says, being smart with your marketing and understanding what role your brand can play in making the Games an enjoyable experience for consumers is a challenging task that sponsors need to rise to in order to be successful. Beats achieved this by making sure the brand was portrayed as part of the Olympic experience rather than the focal point of it.


Be ready for sponsor bashing.

The branding laws set out by Locog to protect sponsors exclusivity rights to the Games may have set some on a collision course with modern, more open marketing conventions but industry observers say marketers should be ready for the anti-sponsor sentiment.Sponsors need to put the onus on the organising committees to better explain and brief the media of their policy and reasons for doing so, in order to avoid negativity. Additionally, Cadbury, Coca-Cola and McDonald all had their involvement with the Games queried on the grounds of whether they fit with with the event’s celebration of sport. Coca-Cola responded to criticisms by launching sustainability ad campaign to showcase its health credentials, while McDonald’s admitted it needed to do more to highlight the quality of its food. With the spotlight shining on how large corporations are run, being able to deal with the negative perceptions that surround corporate sponsorships should be part and parcel of being an Olympic sponsor.


Channel 4 Paralympics ad

C4 claims ‘Olympic effect’ for Paralympics

Lara O'Reilly

Channel 4 claims to be experiencing “the Olympic effect” when it comes to advertiser demand around its Paralympic coverage later this month, but media agencies have expressed caution over the uplift clients are likely to experience from the event.