10 Things You Should Know About Olympic Marketing

On a flight recently from Dallas to New York, I sat next to someone who turned out to be the CMO for a Fortune 1000 company. As we chatted, she revealed that, in the 1990s, her previous employer's CEO had asked her to consider becoming an official Olympic partner. And while that particular chief executive left the company a few months later, the CMO had remained curious about the Games as a marketing platform. So we delved into it.


After more than three hours, we'd hashed through many of the benefits and challenges of partnering with the US Olympics Committee (USOC). As the pilot notified the passengers of our "initial descent," it occurred to me that outlining a recap of our discussion that day on the plane might have some value for not only my team and my clients, but other marketers.

With that, I give you 10 things marketers should know about Olympic marketing:

1. It's the most highly recognized sports brand in America. According to a Harris Interactive study, the Olympic rings are still the most highly recognized sports brand in America. When used effectively, the Olympic logo can help elevate brands to new levels. The key is leveraging an emotionally engaging and consistent activation platform that creates a relevant link between a sponsor's brand and an Olympic message or experience.

2. It's complicated. There's no way around it. An Olympic sponsorship -- whether at the worldwide (IOC) or domestic level (in our case, the USOC) -- is one of the most complicated sponsorships to navigate. To be successful, you must know the rules, know when to be flexible, and know when to remain steadfast.

3. Don't expect turnkey. An Olympic sponsorship can't be activated with an out-of-the-box strategy. Rights to use the Olympic rings come with a big price tag, but with no canned activation programs. The onus is on the sponsor to create and leverage activation programs that genuinely drive value for its brand while also supporting Team USA (See #8).

4. Mass vs. Niche. The five rings are powerful, but the reality is the power of mass reach peaks during the 17 days of the Games every two years. For those brands that want to leverage an Olympic partnership 365 days a year, they can execute partnerships with national governing bodies like USA Gymnastics and USA Figure Skating, which connect with their loyal fans all year long.

5. A broadcast partnership is critical for scale. If your goal as a sponsor is to reach the mass Games viewing audience in the U.S., a partnership with NBC is a must. Beijing was the most watched Olympic Games in history with 211 million viewers. You are not truly involved with "The Olympic Games" in the U.S. unless you are involved with NBC and Of course, that involvement requires a significant investment.

6. Athletes, athletes, athletes. The athletes are the face of the Games. They are the emotional connection that can bring a sponsorship to life and create a relevant link in the mind of the consumer. The brands that have had the most success leveraging their Olympic sponsorships are careful to integrate athletes into their marketing efforts. The best part: Only sponsors can use current Olympic athletes in advertising and marketing campaigns during the Games.

7. Unparalleled customer hospitality opportunity. Simply put, there is no other sports property that can offer a comparable hospitality experience to the Olympic Games. When done right, an Olympic hospitality program can help a company enhance valuable business relationships in ways that will have lasting, positive impact on its business.

8. A good cause. Many people in the U.S. don't realize that the U.S. Olympic Team gets no government funding. The support for America's athletes comes solely from corporate and private donors. As a result, more sponsors are creating activation programs that give consumers a chance to support "their team" -- Team USA.

9. Beyond the consumer. In the U.S., employees who know that their company supports Team USA generally have a more favorable opinion of their employer. If companies are willing to make the effort, an Olympic sponsorship can be used to unify and incent those on the front lines of their business.

10. Bring it home for the most value. All eyes are on Chicago. A domestic Games in 2016 would offer incredible sponsorship opportunities for U.S.-based and global companies.

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1 comment about "10 Things You Should Know About Olympic Marketing ".
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  1. Langston Richardson from Cisco, May 28, 2009 at 11:47 a.m.

    Mary, Thanks for sharing the thoughts that came out of your conversation with the CMO.

    What are your insights into the reaches that digital and social communities plays into brand marketing strategies during Olympic events? You touch on this in points #4 and #6. My thoughts center around balancing the budget realities of brand marketers who see things as set campaigns and the social networking sphere that seeing things as a conversation that build trust over time.

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