According to a survey from market research firm Chadwick Martin Bailey in Boston, followers of the Winter Olympics correctly identified Coca-Cola, McDonald's and Visa as official sponsors of the Games. But many believed that companies such as Pepsi, Subway and American Express were also sponsors.
"These are guys who have a big media presence, and it's hard to get away from them," Josh Mendelsohn, a vice president at Chadwick Martin Bailey, tells Marketing Daily. "It's a good thing to sponsor, but you're probably helping your chief competitor a bit."
Among the top sponsors, there is a wide discrepancy among official sponsors and mistaken sponsors. For instance, 60% of those surveyed named Coca-Cola as an official sponsor, while 51% named Visa and 46% cited McDonald's. Beyond those three, however, the numbers drop off dramatically. Only 20% cited AT&T as an official sponsor; 12% named General Electric; 10% said Samsung and 7% named Panasonic.
Comparatively, the percentages of those final four are in line with the top three mistaken sponsors. Among respondents, 16% said Subway was an official sponsor, 14% said American Express and 10% cited Pepsi.
"There's a pretty good model for how to promote the fact that you're an Olympic sponsor. The smart ones really do it four years at a time," Mendelsohn says. "They really connect with the Olympics ideals, like reaching goals or being American. It's really about the Olympics and what that means."
An explanation for the confusion may lie in the different levels and types of sponsorship, Mendelsohn says. According to the survey, 7% of the respondents thought Verizon was an official sponsor of the games. The company is not, but it has been running ads touting its sponsorship of the U.S. speed skating team.
The lesson: Unless a marketer is willing to go big with promoting Olympic sponsorship, there might be other, less expensive opportunities, Mendelsohn says. "If you're doing it right, there's a benefit, but there are other ways to access this passionate audience. To consumers, after the big ones, it's a bit of a muddle."
For official and mistaken sponsors alike, the benefit may be more one of goodwill than bottom line. According to the survey, 57% of consumers said sponsorship made no difference in their decision whether to support one company or another. However, 83% said sponsorship demonstrated the company's commitment to community support. "Getting goodwill from the masses is pretty hard, and that's pretty powerful," Mendelsohn says.