Shaken & Stirred - Influential Brand Profiling and Positioning

Exclusive : “Communications lessons from the Olympics” / Jack Miles, Northstar Research Partners

An opinion piece about what marketers can learn from how the Olympics as a brand acts/communicates around areas such as gaining trust, the use of emotion and balancing technology and tradition

As the world zooms in on Rio, the marketing sector starts to up its focus on the forthcoming advertising and sponsorship battles that lie ahead. With 400 years’ worth of views for Olympic adverts on You Tube since April and with sponsorship revenue accounting for 45% of the IOC’s income it’s hardly surprising.

However, let’s think about not what marketing takes place at the Olympics, but what can the Olympic movement teach us about communication based on how it presents itself:

Throwing Trust Into The Limelight

Unfortunately, a lot of the pre-Olympic media frenzy has been around the potential exclusion of Russian athletes from the games. Whilst this has largely negative connotations, what it does show us is that the IOC are focussed on ensuring the games yield results that are fair and trustworthy – and in the process of seeking this are demonstrating notable candor.

The value of communicating your brand as one you can trust in modern society is pivotal – one only has to look at the failures to do so by Mitsubishi and Volkswagen to see the inevitable consequences.

Pushing Personalities

In a sporting world dominated by the personality powerhouses of Mayweather, Messi and Murray et al, the Olympics succeeds in bringing the lesser seen sporting personalities to the fore. This widens the barriers of how people view sportsmen/women vs. the typical media portrayals and as such increases the public’s resonance with the wider sporting world.

What brands can learn from this is that the personalities they use as the face of their communications needn’t be celebrities – the democratisation of content now means that consumers are often happy to be spoken to by………consumers. Aligned with scepticism around paid-for-endorsements the VOC now has more power as a communications tool than ever before.

Sports Science Emotion

For all the science involved in Olympic disciplines, whether it be aerodynamics or physiology, the Olympics often connects with its audience, not through science, but largely through the power of emotion. Whether the emotion be highlighted by John Inverdale’s teary interview with Mark Hunter and Zak Purchase or the BBC commentary screaming at Mo Farah’s 10’000m win, the Olympics frequently breach the boundaries of rationalisation.

Just like these events standing out from weeks of 2012 sporting action, brands need to use emotion more than ever before to stand out in the crowded communications-sphere. One need look no further than Olympic adverts such as Always ‘Like a Girl’ and P&G’s ‘Thank You Mom’ for how to powerfully activate emotion in advertising.

Balancing Forward & Backward Thinking

The Olympics cleverly combines a mixture of progressive thinking and tradition in how it presents itself. Whilst innovating to enhance the competitor and spectator experience through areas such as underwater lap counters, GPS based data tracking of canoes and video reviews for referees, it balances this with tradition via the rings, torch, Olympic oath and release of doves. With society in the middle of a tech-revolution, the routing in tradition allows the Olympics to keep a fine progressive/retro balance.

With consumers now widely reported to be detoxing from digital, the time has never been riper for brands to recognise technology and habits from yesteryear – the resurgence of vinyl and dumbphones is testament to this.

Running in A Fresh Yet Consistent Manner

One of the hardest challenges for modern day communications is optimising consistency and freshness – progressing a brand’s identity, but not straying too far from its DNA. The Olympics has a good measure of this balance in terms of its core offering.

Not only do the games ensure that the sports contained within them experience minor tweaks, but they also make sure each Olympic experience takes place in a markedly different culture vs. the proceeding games. This ensures each games delivers a largely similar offering, but in a culturally fresh package These two gambits ensure that whilst the core Olympic offering is consistent, each time it is delivered it is done so in a fresh way.

Jack Miles, Research Director, Northstar Research Partners  @northstarlondon

Big word of thanks to Shutterstock for the great graphics