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Team USA Sponsors Face an Uphill Battle

If the already postponed Tokyo Olympic Games are able to take place this summer—a matter in some doubt with two months to go before the scheduled opening—they will have overcome the enormous obstacle of Japan’s COVID crisis simply to face a more mundane, but still daunting, marketing challenge.


Standing out from the crowd is typically a tough proposition for brands trying to associate their companies, products and services with the Games, the teams and the athletes.


Consider some research findings from the 2014 Winter Games:


Three waves of research (pre-event, during and post-event) measured aided awareness of USOPC/Team USA sponsorship for 26 brands. Following the third wave:


· Seven brands had increased consumer awareness of their role as a sponsor

· 10 brands had the same awareness as they did months prior to the Games

· Nine brands saw recognition of their sponsorship decrease


A generous conclusion of those findings: 27 percent of sponsors were able to move the needle through their activation efforts. And even that figure is rosy when you consider that only three sponsors (12 percent) were able to see an increase of more than five percentage points in awareness after months of Olympic promotions, social media messaging, advertising, etc.


The good news for sponsors in 2021 and beyond is that there is a clear lesson to be learned from the majority of the three brands that saw significant boosts in recognition during and following the Sochi Games.


Two of those success stories—BMW and Procter & Gamble—firmly established themselves as Team USA partners through unique, relevant and compelling storytelling.


· BMW (16-point awareness increase) produced an hour-long documentary—Driving on Ice—that aired on NBC and detailed how the automaker worked with the USA Bobsled and Skeleton Federation for three years, designing and engineering a new two-man bobsled to help the team compete for gold medals. BMW also created an ad spot that leveraged footage similar to the documentary.

· TOP sponsor P&G (10-point awareness increase) continued its hugely popular “Thank You Mom” ad campaign, adding a dedicated website that housed its TV ads and a "Raising an Olympian" video for each of the many company-sponsored athletes, dedicated to their Olympic journey and how their mom/family supported them and gave them strength to compete.


(The third sponsor was Chobani, which activated effectively but received most of its recognition thanks to an unexpected Russian blockade of its products intended for the U.S. team.)


Most of the rest of the pack relied on all-to-familiar “cheer on the team” and “proud partner” messaging that clearly made little to no impact on consumers.


No doubt some of these sponsors had objectives other than raising their profile among the general population. But the majority of them were B2C brands that were not likely to earn positive ROI on their multimillion-dollar investment without consumers knowing they were a sponsor.


With about 60 days until the scheduled opening of the Tokyo Games, most sponsors marketing plans are in place, waiting to go. Let’s hope for their sake those programs take a page from P&G, BMW and plenty of other non-Olympic sponsors, and make their mark with creative content and/or other out-of-the-ordinary activations.

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