Both global and national Olympic sponsors need to develop new strategies to safeguard their investment according to a special Olympic issue of the International Journal of Sports Marketing & Sponsorship.
A study published in the journal found that the most recalled brand at the 2006 Turin Winter Games was that of Nike which was not a TOP Olympic partner. 42% of survey respondents recalled an association of the Nike logo and the Games, whereas the leading official TOP partner was Visa on 31.6% with Coca-Cola next on 28.3%.
Journal editor, Simon Chadwick, points out that Nike's success was a result of the rule allowing clothing manufacturers to have discreet branding on performers apparel. “Nike was very successful in Turin partly because it endorsed a lot of athletes through team sponsorship. But it also maximised its potential by ensuring branding was in the most visible position. For example, in the speed skating, the Nike logo was placed high on the right hand chest instead of the normal left hand position and also at the top of the left kneee. This ensured that it was visible to the camera angles on the outside of the track. In one instance the logo was visible for 144 continous seconds.”
For the TOP Olympic partners, who spend on average $80million for rights to each four-year cycle, Chadwick cites a series of challenges which must be overcome. They include the negative associations such as over-commercialisation, sponsorship clutter, drug cheating, ambush marketing and political issues surrounding host nations.
The journal suggests that the International Olympic Committee needs to develop new strategies to communicate its brand. Key is the need to communicate more with young audiences through the internet and mobile platforms and to ensure a consistent brand image for the Games around the World. Sponsors should also move away from seeking to make 'noise' and instead create 'meaning' to add to the overall Olympic experience.
“Some sponsors use their association in a way that helps to enhance the Olympic brand. GE, for example, has been promoting its environmental credentials.” says Chadwick.
“Despite this, the Beijing Games have been labelled over-commercial. In some respects this is unfair as by far the most over-commercial Games were Atlanta in 1996. The perception, however, remains, partly because sponsors have been seen to be cashing in at a time when issues such as human rights are so prominent. This is potentially damaging for both the IOC and the sponsors, so a strategy is needed in which sponsors show that they are good corporate citizens and that promotional activity is in tune with the spirit of the Olympic movement.”
The report also shows that national Olympic sponsors need to define their activation strategy according to the products that they offer. Research, based on national sponsors of the 2004 Athens Summer Games, defined sponsors as either 'high involvement' in which consumers invest significant time in making buying decisions (cars, financial services etc) and 'low involvement' in which little time is spent considering a purchase and includes fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) brands.
The research shows that for high involvement offerings a sponsorship activation strategy that includes an opportunity to impart information and have a coversation with consumers is much more effective. For low involvement brands, on the other hand, the strategy needs to focus on attitude to the brand rather than product knowledge. The research shows that unprompted awareness rates were highest for the two Greek brands Cosmote (67%) andAlpha Bank (56%), that invested most in appropriate activation to their brand type.
Executive summary: Selection of leveraging strategies by national Olympic sponsors: a proposed model