Steven Colbert in Vancouver

Olympic Brand Management

Organizations have brands whether they want them or not. Organizations have brands whether they manage them or not. This is the common wisdom of brand developers and advertisers as they try to show organizations how to be more cool, more authentic and more sellable. Don’t have a unique and memorable brand?

No problem. Let’s just pay to have your business or organization associated with really unique and memorable stuff. Here’s a singer-songwriter who will sell you the rights to their song for your ad. Here’s a cool athlete who will wear your logo as they cross the finish line.

But what if the singer or athlete turns out to be less charismatic than their agent let on. Or what if they turn out to be downright poisonous? Well companies have often fortified themselves against this kind of risk by opting to be associated with an entire team instead. Or better yet, a whole sport. Why sponsor a hockey team when you can just buy ad time during hockey games? After all, even a team can do poorly.

Even a team can become defamed or end up with less brand value then their agent assured you they had. An entire sport is harder to tarnish and generally more resilient. And I don’t care how boring you think an organization might be, if they are associated with the feelings of excitement and joy people have about sports, then your brand becomes more exciting and more joyous. 1

I leave it to the reader to apply this logic one step further to the Olympics.

Much like any large organization, the Olympics has to work very hard to make sure that not just anyone associates their brand with the Olympics. To earn the right to associate with the Olympics you have to pay. Big time. If you don’t pay, you infringe on their rights – they call this ambush marketing. There is a sense of entitlement around the Olympics that makes it common for businesses and organizations to do just this. That’s because part of the Olympic experience is about community and sharing. So managing the Olympic brand can be a little tricky. Here’s a sentence from the Vancouver2010 website: “Vancouver 2010 is an open invitation for everyone to share in the Olympic and Paralympic journeys.” Of course, they don’t mean that they’re willing to share their brand. That takes a little money.

While everyone and their dog is trying to be seen with all of that feel-good Olympic stuff, the Olympics is also an increasingly controversial event with an increasing number of people arguing that it’s not feel-good at all. This Globe and Mail article2 tells us that a recent survey shows BCers aren’t really into the Games: “Asked if they were excited about the coming Games, 71 per cent of British Columbians said they were either not very excited or not excited at all. Only nine per cent said they were very excited.” Balance that against concerns regarding the loss of liberty associated with hosting the games, and it could spell concern for the value of the Olympic Brand.

More on this soon.

  1. I love playing sports, and I’ve watched various sports over the years, but for the life of me, I don’t really get the national and international uproar around turning on the television or radio and following a game. For hours. For so many hours. I don’t get it.
  2. Original article is gone from the Globe and Mail.

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One Comment

  1. From my observations of the British…for those hours and hours of following a game, you get a sense of connection with everyone else who’s also following the game. For some people it’s one of the few times they feel and openly express strong emotion with other people. So it’s a “community activity”, as well as being a release. If that doesn’t happen in your life very often, it’ll be especially intense. Alcohol heightens this experience, as of course it’s also an excuse to drink. For hours, so many hours.

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