As sponsorship opportunities go, the Olympics are a strange animal. Every four years, for two weeks, they’re the biggest thing on the planet. Then they virtually
disappear for another four years. For companies looking to get value out of their sponsorship dollars, it can be a challenge. For the 2012 London Games, Samsung is trying something different.
Through a social media experiment called the “Olympic Genome,” Samsung will endeavor to link athletes and fans, based on the information and interests they share on Facebook. The goal, according to the company, is to create connections for fans and athletes alike. Using this publicly available data, the program creates a “family tree” of connections to athletes who fans would likely never have known about, according to Samsung chief marketing officer Ralph Santana.
“Everybody has the Olympic flame in them somehow, but we have to make them feel more attached to things,” says Michael Nicholas, chief strategy officer at Isobar in Boston, one of the agencies that make up Team Epic, the group working on the project. “I may be really interested and have a lot in common with guys who are doing fencing, even if I don’t even know anything about fencing.”
The U.S. program, which launches in March 2012, sprung from Samsung’s desire to extend its sponsorship of Olympic events, Nicholas says. Consumer research showed Americans only started paying attention once the games begin (and Americans start winning medals).
“You pay for a four-year sponsorship, but in reality, you’re only benefiting from a tight window. They wanted to get more value out of that opportunity, [asking us] ‘How do you get people to pay attention to more than just when the medal counts start going?’ ” he says. “We asked this question: ‘If you were more attached to the Olympics, would you care more? If you knew someone who could be an athlete or is an athlete, would you be more attached?’ ”
Rather than simply bringing fans in, the Olympic Genome project is also intended to bring athletes out. In addition to building their fan base, Team USA athletes can use the platform to post updates about themselves, their sport and their training for the games. The project gets Samsung closer to the idea of making a one-to-one connection between consumers and companies so craved by modern marketers.
“It allows us to drive relevance on an individual level,” Nicholas says. “My genome is going to be different than yours; it’s still going to be unique to me.”
At the same time, the company hopes the Genome will create more than a mishmash of individuals, but rather a community deeply engaged in the Olympics, well before and well beyond the actual event. To foster a community mindset, Samsung will rely on Genome users to help direct the significant donations it plans to make to Team USA athletes this year. The more that users interact with the community (or check-in at Olympic or Samsung promotional events), the more influence they’ll have, according to Santana.
In the end, the project is a unique way to take the publicly available information shared through social media and create connections (and, the company hopes, a community) for fans and athletes that may not have known anything about each other. It’s a way of data mining that uses data that users provide to create relevant connections, Nicholas says.