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

The Queen vs Seb Coe

As many of us struggle back into work after the Jubilee celebrations we’re now being reminded that it is just 46 days until the start of the London Olympics. And we’ve got Euro 2012 and the Tour de France to fit in first – there are times I’m very glad I work from home……

While the Jubilee and Olympics are very different events, it is fascinating from a marketing point of view to look at how they are presenting themselves – and what London 2012 organisers can learn from last week’s celebrations.

jubilee marmite "limited edition"

jubilee marmite “limited edition” (Photo credit: osde8info)

What struck me most about the Jubilee was its openness – there were obviously formal events such as the flotilla, concert and service at St Paul’s Cathedral but the emphasis was on letting people celebrate in their own way. Whether this was a street/indoor party, going to the pub or setting fire to enormous bonfires the Jubilee catered for a whole range of interests. And if you wanted to ignore the whole thing you still got two days off work.

This openness extended to branding – anyone could stick the word Jubilee on their products without fear of being sued. Some has been inspired, such as rebranding Marmite to Ma’amite while others have been less inventive and simply added a flag and crown to their packaging.

This is in complete contrast to London 2012 where any use of Olympic logos by unofficial partners is immediately slapped down. While protecting your brand (and the multi-million pound investment your official sponsors have made) is important it can go too far and actually have a negative effect. Witness a Devon estate agent threatened with legal action for putting a makeshift Olympic display in its window when the torch relay came past. Not really a challenge to multinational official sponsors. Ironically it was in Devon that sponsors Coca Cola arranged for Will.i.am to carry the torch – hardly opening the Olympics up to the local community.

From a marketing point of view the Diamond Jubilee ticked all the boxes – people enjoyed themselves despite the weather and the Royal Family came out of the event stronger and more popular than before. There’s still time for London 2012 organisers to look at the success of the Jubilee and see what they can do to make the games an inclusive experience for the whole country. Over to you Seb………..

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June 11, 2012 Posted by | Marketing, PR | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment