Revolutionary Measures

The PR lessons from Rio 2016

Usain Bolt in celebration about 1 or 2 seconds...

It’s probably fair to say that there was a lot of trepidation about how the Rio Olympics would turn out. Russian doping, the Zika virus, political turmoil in Brazil and worries about the venues being ready on time, and up to standard, all dominated the news in the run up to the games. At a country level, Team GB’s medal count was expected to fall compared to London 2012, while time differences meant that less of the action would be taking place when it could be easily viewed by the British public.

Instead, rather than being a disaster, the games came through. There were obvious issues in terms of infrastructure, but nothing major, and while attendance was poor at a lot of sports it seems there was a real buzz by the end of the event. Team GB not only hit its stated medal target, but exceeded its London 2012 total, with medals in a huge range of sports. In football, the host nation got revenge for its World Cup drubbing by Germany, winning gold in a penalty shootout. The decision of the IAAF to ban Russian athletes helped more countries than ever before to win medals, and while there were police raids linked to ticket touting, in general the IOC bureaucrats either behaved (or weren’t caught red-handed). So who were the PR winners and losers of Rio 2016?

1. Ryan Lochte
The prize for worst public relations (and behaviour), undoubtedly goes to US swimming superstar Ryan Lochte. After a drunken night out he, along with some of his team mates, claimed they’d been robbed at gunpoint by Brazilian policemen, feeding the world’s fears about crime and corruption in Rio. Luckily for the games, the real story was captured on CCTV. Rather than being robbed, the swimmers had smashed up a local petrol station toilet, causing security guards to pull guns on them until they paid for the damage. Once the truth came out the press were able to delight in headlines such as Liar, Liar, Speedo’s on Fire – and sponsors (including Speedo) quickly dropped Lochte from their campaigns.

2. Usain Bolt
Such is the pulling power of Usain Bolt that his presence and success helped define the games. From dancing a samba at a pre-race press conference to entering the arena with dry ice swirling, he is a consummate showman, as well as the fastest man in the world. And he does it with a smile on his face, helping fans and the general public to empathise with his performances. Given the recent history of drug taking in sprint events, his performances have essentially rehabilitated the sport.

3. Team GB
As I said, everyone was expecting a drop in the medal total for Britain after London, something that Team GB administrators kept repeating at every opportunity. This meant that the country’s success was even more unexpected, particularly when some early medal shots (such as Lizzie Armitstead in the cycling) didn’t come through.

However, it did create a bit of a dilemma for many people. We’re meant to be plucky British underdogs, but thanks to the skills of the athletes and coaches, and lottery funding, we now dominate in many sports. No wonder that many broadcasters seemed unsure how to play the triumphalism – the BBC’s end of games roundup was a mixture of awe and confusion.

What impressed me was both the range of sports where Team GB won medals and the attitudes of the athletes. Sports participation actually went down after London 2012, and clearly there was a concerted effort to try and address this. Pretty much after every medal athletes encouraged people to get involved, try things out and visit their local sailing/swimming/gymnastics etc. club. Let’s hope the message resonates and that grassroots sport gets a boost.

4. Golf
Like a lot of people, I didn’t believe that golf merited a place in the Olympics – or, if it did, it should be something more exciting, such as Crazy Golf. With many of the sport’s stars pulling out, citing the Zika virus as an excuse, the tournament looked like it was going to be a high profile disaster. Yet the sport shone through and the stars that had championed the event gave us a thrilling event, with Justin Rose winning at the death. Thanks to that, golf may well have saved its place at future Olympics.

5. British Airways
Painting post boxes gold in the home towns of Olympic champions was the PR masterstroke of London 2012. Given the time difference this sort of marketing was more difficult in Rio, but British Airways managed to pull it off, with a gold nosed plane (renamed victoRIOus) carrying many of the athletes back to the UK. Cue lots of shots of gold medal winners on the flight deck, and selfies shared on social media, probably helped by the 77 additional bottles of champagne the plane was carrying. Even the fact that a large number of medal winners, such as Bradley Wiggins, Andy Murray, Laura Trott and Justin Rose had already left Rio, didn’t detract from the triumph.

August 24, 2016 Posted by | Marketing, PR | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

easyBrand Damage?

Aircraft: Boeing 737-33V Airline: EasyJet Regi...

Like a lot of people I’ve been impressed by the current easyJet TV ads. Celebrating ‘generation easyJet’, the group of travellers that the airline claims was created due to its low fares and wide range of destinations, it is modern, engaging and aspirational. There’s no overt mention of price (in contrast to Ryanair’s pile them high and sell them cheap advertising), and the overall approach is grown up and comparable to ‘proper’ airlines. The message is travel with easyJet to do the things you love.

However in an age of social media and consumer activism advertising can’t trump reality. Two recent easyJet blunders threaten to undo the slick ads, damage its brand and put off prospective passengers.

Firstly, it initially refused to let a passenger who criticised it on Twitter board his flight. Lawyer Mark Leiser sent a tweet after his plane from Glasgow to London was delayed, potentially preventing a soldier on his way to active service reaching his base in Portsmouth. easyJet allegedly said they wouldn’t help pay for him to get to his destination. After tweeting Leiser was pulled out of the boarding queue and told by a manager that he couldn’t get on the plane as ‘you can’t tweet stuff like that and get on an easyJet flight.’ It was only when the manager found out that Leiser was a lawyer that they changed their mind and let him on. easyJet later apologised and denied that it was its policy to ban passengers based on what they’d said. However by then the damage was done as Leiser’s original tweets were shared around the world and then picked up by major media.

A couple of weeks later easyJet managed to leave 29 passengers behind even though they’d passed through the boarding gate and completed check-in (and had hold luggage on the plane). Interestingly statistics from YouGov found that nearly 10% of UK Twitter users heard about the story, showing the power of social media to spread bad news.

Obviously easyJet is not the only airline to suffer at the hands of social media. After BA lost his parent’s luggage, Hasan Syed invested in a campaign of promoted tweets focused on the airline’s target audience, leading to the #BASucks hashtag trending. Eventually BA customer service responded, apologising for not getting back sooner but (I kid you not) the global airline’s social media team only works 9-5. Like easyJet, BA has an ambitious new ad campaign out now, highlighting its “To Fly, To Serve” motto. No news on whether they are going to amend that to “To Serve (business hours only).”

easyJet has invested over £5m in its new ad campaign and I’m sure BA has spent a lot more. But it looks like a classic case of being distracted by shiny things. A much smaller investment in social media and staff training might not look as impressive, but in today’s world may well go a lot further.

October 16, 2013 Posted by | Creative, Marketing | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Bubble trouble?

Image representing LinkedIn as depicted in Cru...

Image via CrunchBase

Tomorrow (Thursday) sees the much trumpeted flotation of LinkedIn, which is tipped to value the company at £2.6 billion. And it is likely to be followed by a host of other social media sites, from Facebook and Twitter to the likes of Groupon and Zynga, with similar stratospheric valuations. You’d be forgiven in thinking the global recession was over as investors seem to be scrambling to throw money at anything vaguely social.

It does remind me a lot of the previous dotcom bubble (yes, I am that old) where the likes of Lastminute.com in the UK achieved market valuations greater than unfashionable bricks and mortar businesses such as British Airways.

The question a lot of commentators are asking is – are we in another bubble and what happens when it pops? I’m not an economist but when you look at LinkedIn, which has said it won’t make a profit in 2011 and see that it values it at 17 times 2010 revenues (Google by contrast is at six times revenue) I’d worry. Essentially you are taking a punt on LinkedIn extending its offering and delivering future profits to match the valuation and while it has a strong, differentiated, brand things can change quickly in social media. Just look at the plummeting fortunes of early stars MySpace and Bebo……………..

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May 18, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment