Why London 2012 is about the money, money, money

Could Mark Ritson have spoken too soon when he voiced his incredulity at Locog’s abilities?


In previous columns in the run-up to this 30th Olympiad, your humble columnist may have given you the impression that he had no confidence whatsoever in the ability of Locog to run a successful Olympic Games. Clearly, my lack of faith was entirely mistaken and everyone working for Locog is a total genius.

While I still maintain that Wenlock, the Games’ mascot, looks like a male appendage and that Locog’s ridiculous pre-Game restrictions on the use of the Olympic logo were thoroughly self-defeating, all that has now been swept away in a haze of glory and brilliantly executed event management.

But was it all worth it?

I ask this question not in a rhetorical manner or with even with the faintest hint of cynicism. If I was a columnist for The Times or The Sun I’d be shovelling on the platitudes and stretching the metaphors to breaking point this week. But this is Marketing Week and, like all good marketers, I must turn my attention from the amazing experiences of the past two weeks and towards the thorny issue of return on investment.

You can’t be a decent marketer without being able to demonstrate ROI. Cliché-ridden, old school marketers at this point will defer to John Wanamaker’s famous inability to work out which half of his marketing budget was working. Well, Wanamaker should have been fired because any decent brand manager can show you that the investments they have made in marketing are indeed producing the promised results or they should not be given the money in the first place.

With the execution box well and truly ticked, the big question we should be asking of London 2012 is whether it will generate sufficient ROI. We know what the ‘I’ is: the Games cost the UK taxpayer a grand sum of £9bn. The more vexing question is whether we’ll get a suitable ‘R’ from this amount. To do that we must follow the tried and true approach to ROI calculation.
First, we have to detach from all the emotional stuff. There are too many marketers who lose themselves in the punch of their ad campaign and lose perspective on the strategy behind the communications. So put the Spice Girls, Mo Farah and all those fireworks to one side. Consumers are meant to lose themselves in an event, marketers stay behind the curtain and keep an eye on all the joysticks.

Public support for the Games rose to 55 per cent but how enduring will that support be over the coming difficult economic months?

Next, we have to review the strategic rationale that drove the investment in the first place. This is a hard one for London 2012 because people had very different priorities for the Games.
For prime minister David Cameron, the Games were designed to bring the nations of the UK closer together. “It’s a Britain where English, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish compete in one team and drape themselves in one flag,” was his triumphant conclusion on Monday. For London mayor Boris Johnson, the Games were, not surprisingly, about asserting the supremacy of London as the premier capital city: “London has put on a dazzling face to the global audience. For the first time since the end of the empire, it truly feels like the capital of the world.”

Culture secretary Jeremy Hunt was more practically concerned with public perception of the event and the degree to which Brits believed this was “everyone’s Games” and worth the huge cost.

You can always spot a good marketer because not only do they have clear objectives, they have also measured the pre-existing and post-activity levels that their campaign was designed to target. There is no point aiming to build brand awareness and measuring it after the execution if you didn’t measure the level before you began.

We will have to wait for the data that demonstrates that, post-2012, the UK is a more harmonious nation and London a more dominant capital. But we can examine Hunt’s stated objective because we have both benchmark and outcome data for the public support for the Games.

Four months before the Games began, only 40 per cent of the British public believed the Games were worth the expense. That figure had risen to 55 per cent on the Friday before the Games ended, according to an ICM poll for The Guardian. While that’s an impressive attitude shift, it’s likely to be the zenith of public support. And how enduring will that support be over the coming difficult economic months and years ahead now that the UK has spent the money on its golden fortnight?

The final, and most important part of the ROI calculation is the opportunity cost. Of course the 2012 Games have been good for the UK. The key question is whether the £9bn could have been spent in a better manner for the good of the country. To put it more bluntly, was it worth spending millions on an event to celebrate the NHS in Danny Boyle’s amazing opening ceremony or would that money have been better spent supporting some of our ailing hospitals?

Jessie J might have sang on Sunday night that “It’s not about the money, money, money” but she entered the stadium in a Rolls Royce paid for by the British taxpayer. I ask again: was it worth it?



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