Melbourne Herald Sun, Friday August 3, 2012
Every four years I seem to find my pen dragged to the same topic: Are clients getting enough value out of their sponsorship of events - in this case, the Olympic Games?
Advertising people are quite ambivalent about these sponsorships. On the surface they are a loss to the agency. Usually negotiated between the client and the manufacturer, the agency sees a huge portion of "their" advertising budget disappear out of their control.
They make no commission out of the sponsorship dollars, which can be considerable. The cost of Olympic sponsorship is a great international secret, but for the top-line "Olympic Partners" it would run close to $100 million.
You are not allowed to put badges on the athletes' shirts or rotating signs on the grandstands, just how do you let people know of your generous donation?
Here the agencies do win back some revenue. The client has to run major campaigns around the event declaring their official sponsorship. Hence all those long commercials with the running children and sweating sports folk, soulful music building to a brassy victory fanfare, mothers with tears in their eyes - all leading to the end slide: "Official Olympic Partner".
Unfortunately the fact does not always register. While Adidas is sponsor, more people believe it's Nike. While McDonalds has been a primary partner for years, some 25% of Americans think Burger King is too. And as if they haven't already got enough money, Google get associated, for no cost.
Then there is all that sneaky "ambush marketing". Here non-sponsors pretend that they are. Nike has built a reputation over the years for creative piracy. This year they have their own commercial about brave young folk working hard to build themselves into Olympians in slums and remote towns like London, Nigeria; London, Ohio; London, Jamaica - what a coincidence that they all come from towns with the same name as the Games.
The genuine sponsors need a bigger reason for their huge outlay, which would be hard to justify one burger or bottle at a time. I'd call it "respectability".
In a world where their brand is synonymous in media debates with "obesity", "diabetes", and "corrupting youth health", McDonalds can enjoy a break. They are now the providers of the world's fittest, fastest, best-looking, most exciting people in the world. And they bathe in the glow.
So it is with Coca-Cola, taking top spot because they could never afford to allow anyone else in. Especially Pepsi. Coke can boast to being the most faithful - every Olympics since 1928. Their tip to modernity is the inclusion of Powerade in the marketing mix.
There are other corporate reasons. For BP the sponsorship is a golden opportunity to rehabilitate the resources giant after its environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Moving as far as possible from undersea oil, they are supplying biofuels - made from sugar cane and grasses - to power some 5000 vehicles.
The sponsorship gives a chance to marketing's number 2s. For Adidas it's a chance to shine as a sports hero over dominant Nike. Which is why the ambush marketing makes them so mad.
Samsung can get a bit of daylight through the constant shadow of Apple - a brand that has studiously avoided any connection with sports whatsoever.
Then there is Procter & Gamble, the world's oldest marketer. They're pushing their highly successful Old Spice toiletries. Not with "Look like me" Mustafa this time, but using a geek with a motivational tape.
And of course as the originators of soap opera, P&G have mums doing the washing, cooking and taxiing for their sweaty sports kids.