Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Olympian misadventures

Published in Sep-Oct 2012

Advertisers at London’s biggest show did themselves no favours.
And the winners were... Adidas’ viral campaign using David Beckham; P&G’s ‘Proud sponsors of moms’ campaign; British Airways campaign urging Britons ‘not’ to fly; BMW – the car behind the runner at the torch relay and Lloyds TSB supporting local athletes on their way to the Games.
And the winners were... Adidas’ viral campaign using David Beckham; P&G’s ‘Proud sponsors of moms’ campaign; British Airways campaign urging Britons ‘not’ to fly; BMW – the car behind the runner at the torch relay and Lloyds TSB supporting local athletes on their way to the Games.

One of the fascinating things about people in marketing and advertising is how we live inside a bubble.

We believe that what we do is necessary, valuable and ultimately even of real social benefit.

What we choose to ignore is that we are almost universally despised. If you want a character for your sitcom who is stupid or you want a slime ball for your movie, make him an ad executive.

Vance Packard and his specious bestseller of the 60’s, The Hidden Persuaders has cast a long shadow.

Regrettably, the London 2012 Olympics has done nothing to restore the reputation of our industry and its practitioners.

The most embarrassing moment was the interview on the influential Radio 4 programme Today when Lord (Sebastian) Coe clearly said that if you tried to enter the Games Park wearing a Pepsi-branded T-shirt you would be denied entry.

“What about trainers?” asked interviewer John Humphreys.

Coe replied that visitors would “probably” be admitted if they were wearing Nike.

These strong-arm tactics, he said, were to protect the commercial rights of the main sponsors of the Games, among them Coca-Cola and Adidas.

“We have to protect the rights of the sponsor because in large part they pay for the Games,” he said.

That is disingenuous and every one of his listeners knew it.

The London Games were sold to the public as costing £4.2 billion. In fact they cost £8.5 billion. A Parliamentary Select Committee has suggested the real cost will be around £11 billion.

The 11 major sponsors are reckoned to have paid $100 million (£65 million) each. Among them are McDonald’s, a brand associated with child obesity, Coca-Cola, ditto, Dow Chemicals, the company evading its responsibilities for Bhopal, and Visa.

Tickets could only be purchased with a Visa card, such was the stranglehold the brand had on LOCOG, the organising committee.

Beneath the major sponsors were seven tier one partners who paid around £40 million each. Adidas, BMW, BT were among them. Then there were supporters and suppliers who paid £20 million.

So, when you do the maths, what becomes evident is that sponsorship provided about a fifth of the money. The rest came from the taxpayer. And the taxpayer has taken exception to the heavy handed brand police at LOCOG.

Granted by Act of Parliament the power to inflict fines of up to £20,000 on any company or business which infringed any of the Olympic movement’s own trademarks and logos, LOCOG has made many enemies.

####Advertisers at London’s biggest show did themselves no favours, writes Patrick Collister.

For instance, the Olympic café in Stratford had been a local landmark since 1962. It was forced to change its name. A butcher in Weymouth, where the sailing took place, created five rings of sausages in his window with a title, Fantastic 2012, and was threatened with prosecution. Village fairs which held mini-Olympics were also sent warning letters.

There are two very distinct sides to the British personality and both were on view as London 2012 took shape.

On the one hand, the welcoming, sports-mad, slightly self-mocking enthusiast, as typified by the many thousands of volunteers. On the other, the small-minded, petty bureaucrat, the jobsworth with no sense of humour. Individuals of this second type found a natural home within LOCOG.

So, overall, who were the winners and losers at London 2012?

Starting with the losers, the IOC was a major defaulter, as, indeed, it is at almost every Games. Apparently there are now 200,000 people in the Olympic family. We know this because they were given huge tranches of seats at events, which they did not bother to fill. Live TV showed upto 25% of the seats still empty at ‘sell-out’ events including the swimming, the riding and the cycling. Visa were also major culprits in doing absolutely nothing with the swathes of seats they had been allocated.

The arrogance and vanity of the IOC was perfectly expressed through its President, Jacques Rogge, whose contempt for the ‘little people’ was made evident when he suggested that Usain Bolt was no legend. Yet the whole rotten edifice now moves back to Lausanne to continue to pull all the levers that will rake in more cash from the 2014 Winter Olympics at Soshi, Russia, and 2016 in Rio.

Visa, and parent company Barclays, were never going to be winners, not since the news broke only a month before the Games that they had been manipulating LIBOR, the inter-bank rate of exchange. CEO Bob Diamond disgraced himself in front of the Parliamentary Select Committee but subsequently offered not the smallest gesture of regret or humility. But do the bigwigs at Visa care? Nope. Because they have already achieved what they wanted to through the Olympics, the enforced recruitment of new card members. Their hubris, however, will be rewarded by legislation not just in the UK but in other countries as well to rein them in from their excesses. Their association with London 2012 was restrictive and monopolistic. For instance, at the Games you could only buy goods with a Visa card. When their computer system crashed at Wembley, people could only pay for food and drink with cash. If the whole point of sponsorship is to get people to think well of you by the association with something noble or worthy, Visa failed.

Another loser was McDonald’s. That said, the company has reported increased sales during the Games. And by all accounts their store in the Olympic village did startlingly well. Criticism of their sponsorship doesn’t seem to have affected sales one jot and in all the research surveys, McDonald’s is as recognised as Coca-Cola as an official sponsor.

Finally, another company that tripped itself up was Ralph Lauren. They were the official clothing partner to the US Olympic team. A pity, then, that all the uniforms they supplied had been made in China.


P&G, whose ‘Proud sponsors of moms’ strategy produced a raft of consistently emotional advertising which ran in almost all their major markets. Helping some 800 mothers travel to the Olympics to watch their kids compete was a brilliant PR initiative, which one report suggests will “generate $500 million in additional sales.”

In the UK, British Airways came out of it all well, running a campaign urging Britons ‘not’ to fly but to stay at home and cheer the home team.

Lloyds TSB managed to run a campaign supporting local athletes on their way to the Games and got behind the Olympic Torch relay. It was relatively quiet as campaigns go but thoughtful in the way it used Facebook with geo-targeted advertising that followed the torch as it made its way around the country.

Adidas also had a tremendously successful viral campaign using David Beckham. A photo booth was set up in a shopping mall not far from the Olympic site for local people to video themselves supporting Team GB. As they posed, David Beckham popped into the booth to join them – to reactions of amazement, delight and, in once case, tears. But heart warming and touching.

Actually, the Beckham brand also came away from the Games enhanced. Not only appearing in ads for Adidas and Samsung, his appearance in the opening ceremony video driving the speedboat did him no harm.

Another low key winner was BMW. If you watched any of the torch relay on TV, the car behind the runner was always a Beemer. The cars following the road races in the cycling and the marathon in athletics were Beemers too. And, for the two weeks of the Games, they were a regular sight on London’s roads – in the empty lanes reserved for the Olympic Family.

Curiously, and despite LOCOG’s best (or worst) efforts, other winners included Tesco and Aviva, both of whom were thought, wrongly, to have been major sponsors in post-Games research. Aviva was particularly cute in running a huge campaign on an Olympic theme the moment the sponsors’ embargo on advertising was lifted on August 16th. They ran a series of ads talking about the successful athletes they had sponsored.

LOCOG’s big oversight was Twitter. It simply did not occur to them that the medium would be as frenetic as it was. Twitter had a good Games with over 150 million tweets in two weeks.

Tom Daley, the boy diver, attracted over a million new followers. Jessica Ennis got 400,000. They were free to plug their own individual sponsors.

The biggest winner of all, however, was probably Britain the brand. There had been puffery a decade ago about Cool Britannia but that was just the showbiz nonsense of the Blair years. What was revealed by London 2012 was something altogether more interesting. The cynicism that had characterised most of the newspaper reports before the games evaporated within minutes of the opening ceremony.

The volunteers in their pink and purple tank tops were courteous, charming and everywhere.

New role models have emerged in Mo Farah and Jessica Ennis, icons of a multicultural society that has offered encouragement and rewards to all who have had the energy and ambition to carve out lives for themselves here.

Mitt Romney started a firestorm both in the UK and the USA when he suggested that Britain “wasn’t ready” for the Games.

It turned out that Britain was ready and up for it. All the facilities were completed on time. By general consent, they were reckoned to be tip top. And most competitors and their back-up teams had nothing but praise for their hosts.

So, what will the feel-good factor be worth in hard cash?

Prime Minister David Cameron has said he believes the Olympics will generate income worth £13 billion to the UK economy to offset the nine to £11 billion investment. Goldman Sachs, however, take a leaner view. They predict a small rise in economic output in the UK of 0.4% as a result of the Games before a fourth quarter contraction.

In so many ways the Olympics in London were garish and ugly. Many bloggers have attacked the clumsy insertion of brands into an event that was created with a real sense of idealism by Baron de Courbertin in 1896.

The profits made at Los Angeles in 1984, the vulgar commercialisation of Atlanta in 1996, the smoke and mirrors of Beijing in 2008; how on earth does this vast, hideous show continue to lumber its way across continents every four years?

Because every four years the Olympics are saved by the Games themselves. We forget, and even forgive, the brands that were crass and embarrassing because of the heroic deeds we saw on track and field, in pool, velodrome and arena.

Only sport could save London 2012. And it did. As it will Rio in 2016.

Fabulously, famously, incredibly.

Patrick Collister is Editor, Directory magazine. He is former Executive Creative Director and Vice Chairman, Ogilvy & Mather.