First impressions of the London Olympics

Susan Bean, EVP of Marina Maher Communications' Creative Catalyst Group, is on assignment in London for the Olympic Games. Here she reports on first impressions after her first week on the ground.

Susan Bean, EVP of Marina Maher Communications' Creative Catalyst Group, is on assignment in London for the Olympic Games.  Here she reports on first impressions after her first week on the ground.

One thing you notice as soon as you hit Heathrow airport is how Olympic Sponsors are activating here in London. What's interesting is how different each program is. Brands like Coke and McDonalds are all about exclusivity. Coke is the official beverage of the Olympic Games and McDonalds “owns” not only fast food, but the sandwich. So tight is their grip on the category that a controversy recently bubbled up over whether someone wearing a Pepsi T-shirt or eating a (Burger King) Whopper would be allowed in an Olympic venue. Ridiculous of course, but indicative of how being an “exclusive” sponsor can lead to a perception of being exclusive rather than inclusive and how brands can inadvertently fly in the face of the Olympic spirit.

Two companies that are activating in a way that is both inclusive and authentic on the ground are Visa and P&G (full disclosure…a client) who are both providing refuges in London for people from out of town who have traveled to the Games.

Visa has traditionally been the most exclusive of all Olympic Sponsors with its storied campaign boasting that “nobody takes American Express” at the Olympic Games. This year's campaign is a kinder gentler version. Visa is still the only card you can use to buy Olympic tickets, but instead of calling out AmEx here in London their activation is a VIP Lounge open every day from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. with complementary food and drinks.  They are also sponsoring events here featuring top-tier former Olympians that are open to anyone with a Chase Visa Card.  Providing customers a place to get away from the Olympic madness while inherently demonstrating the value of having a Chase Visa card, is a softer, more inclusive take on their traditional approach. It's also a great fit with their advertising campaign, which is all about consumers cheering on the athletes together. As seen in this spectacular ad featuring  Morgan Freeman's inspiring voice, it taps into the “we are the world” spirit of the Olympics with an invitation to collectively pull together and cheer the athletes on. 

P&G's program is about the connection between athletes and moms. P&G might seem like a tough fit with the Olympic Games as the makers of Tide, Crest, Pampers and just about every other product you might use, but probably take for granted. But they found an authentic connection to the Olympics that works for both their audience and their company:  for almost all athletes the first person to believe in them was their moms. And that's about as inclusive as you can get, since motherhood is pretty much universal. Their online video thanking moms, who have “the hardest job in the world,” now has more than 20 million views around the world. P&G's activation in London is the P&G Family Home, open to all 10,000 Olympic moms and their families. Similar to Visa, it is open from 11 am until 11 pm, serving two meals a day and providing families of Olympians a place to get away from Olympic pressure.

The London Organizing Committee for the Olympics Games (LOGOC) promotes “inclusion” as a key differentiator of this year's Games. It will be interesting to see if – and how – sponsors play out that theme in their communications strategies over the coming weeks and how well “inclusion” strategies fare over those that are more “exclusive.”

Susan Bean is EVP in Marina Maher Communications' Creative Catalyst Group.

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