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Marketing and the Rio 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games

The run up to the Rio 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games has been marred by much controversy and negative publicity, with athletes pulling out due to fears over the Zika virus, the doping scandal involving Russian athletes and concerns over Rio’s finances and preparedness for hosting the world’s premier sporting event.  Against this backdrop, over the last couple of weeks we’ve started seeing the sponsors of both the Games themselves and Team GB rolling out their Rio 2016 advertising campaigns in the hope of engaging the British public and reviving some of the passionate support that we saw in 2012.

Personally I think it will be hard for the sponsors to have the impact that they had in 2012.  Firstly, the time difference to Rio means that a lot of the Olympic action will take place during the middle of the night, UK time, so limiting the amount the average British fan is likely to watch.  Equally, it will be hard to imagine these Games being embraced with anything like the fervour of London 2012, given that they are not taking place on home soil and given the negative publicity that has surrounded Rio 2016 for so long.  In terms of the sponsors and their activations, we are seeing a move away from focusing on the athletes towards an emphasis on the fans.  This strategy was reported to work well for many sponsors of the 2016 European Football Championships and Wimbledon and so several Olympic sponsors, such as Visa and Aldi are following this pattern for Rio 2016.  I think this focus on the fans is also a sign that sponsors are increasingly wary of the potential pitfalls of associating their brand strongly with one or two athletes.  Clearly, the spectre of doping is hanging over the Games, but also an injury or late withdrawal can leave a brand exposed if they have built their entire campaign around that athlete.  Therefore, by focusing on the fans, the sponsors are able to not only mitigate some of that risk but also go beyond the rather out-dated concept of assuming that simply by partnering with a successful athlete, those attributes will rub off on the brand.

Other sponsors, such as Samsung and P&G are running with updated versions of campaigns which have worked successfully in the past, at London 2012 in the case of P&G (Thank You Mum campaign) and the 2015 Rugby World Cup in the case of Samsung (School of Rio campaign, featuring Jack Whitehall).  Both of these campaigns work in different ways to tap into consumers’ emotions and communicate the ethos of the respective brands.  On a global level, Samsung has launched an emotive Rio 2016-themed advertising campaign centred around the singing of different national anthems, no doubt trying to tap into the shared sense of pride and unity associated with the Olympic Games.  However, I think their School of Rio campaign is likely to be more effective in the UK market, where humour works well, particularly among the younger demographic, which is a key target market for Samsung in its battle with Apple.