The Olympic Baby

We were a little surprised when we saw the IOC was planning on reforming its Rule 40.

Rule 40 currently imposes commercial purdah on Olympians for nearly a month around the Games, preventing any use of name or likeness in association with non-Games partners. Penalties for contravention include disqualification and stripping of medals (although the reality is closer to a rapped knuckle for the superstar breaches that are the legends of ambush: Johnson, Christie, Phelps)

There’s a popular case for change. Dozens of athletes launched a Twitter campaign – #WeDemandChange2012 – during the London Games, to urge an end to the rule. Rule 40 limits the commercial potential of athletes at the greatest moments in their season or even their careers. Only the very top athletes, sponsored by official Games partners, would make real money in Olympic years.

But a change is still surprising. Not only because the IOC is a conservative beast…but because this reform is potentially … radical.

The premise is to allow pre-existing marketing campaigns based on Olympians to continue, providing they are ‘generic’ ie non Olympic. But as we saw clearly in the controversies about Scotiabank’s 2010 and Honda’s 2012 campaigns, it can be extremely difficult to differentiate between ‘generic’ and Olympic marketing. The strict IP of the IOC and Games are well-protected: the marques and designations. But … mood, colours, words even.: Champion, heroic, pride… The Olympic brand is way too big to be reduced to a few protected terms.

So it’s difficult to see how ambush marketing would not be encouraged by this move. And while simple cease and desist letters are effective in blocking flagrant breaches of Olympic legislation, rights protection teams would struggle to cope with multiple negotiations of the protracted sort required by the more subtle approach of a Honda or Scotiabank.

Although LOCOG successfully restricted the ability of non Partners to use outdoor or field marketing in ambush, Games-time clutter across multiple channels is also a real risk, with the threat of Atlanta-style backlash against excessive commercialism.

But it will be the NOCs around the world who are most likely to suffer, with the dilution of their main asset. Brands will have the option to steer clear of bulky rights packages and head, instead, straight to the athletes.

And the potential is for so many brands to develop ‘non-Olympic’ campaigns that official sponsors will have to reassess the value of official Olympic turf. Or for undesirable or controversial brands to tarnish the halo of the Rings. How much did Bodog offer Tiger? Any ISFs who already accept gambling partners will be hard-pushed to take a stand when the same brands turn to athletes…

The change surely has the potential to shift the entire Olympic sponsorship landscape. Sponsors in the Olympic family will be faced with the need to develop stronger, more differentiated sponsorship propositions. The marketing landscape would be shaken up, there’s no question about that.

An apocalyptic picture. Life rarely pans out exactly as predicted, but here at Redmandarin, we’re left asking ourselves: which is the baby and which is the bathwater?

Red Thread

Olympics: what next?

One of the defining attributes of the Games is their life-cycle. The simple fact that each version of the Games only takes place once every four years, in different parts of the world, ensures the experience remains eternally fresh, not stuck in the comfortable but deadening rut of annual fixture.

Each Games spans seven long years, building from Host City announcement through to global celebration, and the Games are as much about this journey – as the event itself, with an unprecedented network of businesses and organisations working towards a single end.

And then Continue reading

West meets East

The classic modern Olympic case study and one that gets more than its fair share of praise in ‘Working the Olympics’, is Samsung. The story of a faceless OEM turned global brand superstar on the back of a quality product portfolio, a sponsorship portfolio bordering on lavish, and a single-minded attitude to brand marketing. Yet so much has changed, even since we began writing ‘Working the Olympics’, that instinctively that story feels like it belongs to a bygone era; an era when it was Western markets and Western consumers that were the prime audience and emerging brands were desperate for the riches that could be unlocked with a mass consumer profile and a hefty marketing spend. Now the world is very different. Continue reading

Red Thread

sponsorship zen

It tickles us at Redmandarin that the IOC now has 11 TOP partners.

Brands and rights-holders often perpetuate a false correlation between sponsor numbers and clutter, and talk about sponsor clutter as though it’s an issue – and yet the IOC’s elegant solution is simply zen: de-clutter. Certainly, there is a limit to the number of partners that any property will sustain, but the limit itself depends on a number of factors, of which sponsor numbers is but one. What’s ironic is that a principled decision by the IOC to eschew easy commercialisation now looks like the more effective commercial strategy in the long run. Continue reading