Word of Mouth - The Olympics

I-Level's social media unit Jam explores the online buzz around the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The Olympic sponsorship debate has been a hot topic for a long time but with ambush brands now attempting to deluge official, paid-up sponsors, how have brands fared in gaining exposure and creating buzz amongst the online communities?

Discussion around the Olympics has been enormous, with daily posts in the blogosphere and beyond regularly topping 650. But with McDonalds' official partner status, they could have expected to yield a far higher amount of online discussion than the 3% they have registered over the past two months.

Rebecca Arlington's post-race revelation that she couldn't wait for a Big Mac has proved to be the biggest talking point within McDonalds' online buzz. This raises issues about the effect an official sponsorship has on online buzz; people aren't discussing McDonalds in relation to the Olympics other than a non-official, controversial stunt.

A number of athletes have mentioned McDonalds during the games. Could this be the first example of an official partner supplementing their sponsorship with an ambush tactic of their own? If you can't beat them...

TITLE: Buzz around brands associated with the Olympics (Source: Onalytica)

The lack of discussion surrounding McDonalds and The Olympics suggests that people are struggling to find a correlation between athletics and fast food. In contrast to this, Lenovo, the official computer supplier for The Olympics have generated a high volume of online buzz. Despite being a lesser known global brand than McDonalds, they have succeeded in making people talk, through some clever use of social media. Lenovo's Summer Games site (www.summergames.lenovo.com) allowed visitors to read athletes blogs and Twitter posts from behind the scenes at the event, something that helped raise their levels of buzz to 11%.

Apart from becoming a headline sponsor, there were other routes to achieving visibility at Beijing and getting people talking online. This has been most apparent for sports manufacturers.

Adidas were the official sportswear supplier for the games but Nike's continued sponsorship of the American team as well as numerous other leading athletes has proved a more robust strategy, holding a 42% share of buzz, compared to Adidas' 22%. With such strict restrictions placed upon the sponsors' arena presence, the athletes and team can provide a better return on investment for brands.

Puma is another brand that has benefited from this route. Usain Bolt's sprint performances are sure to become the lasting memory of this year's Olympics, broadcasting Puma branded shoes and kit across the world. This relayed into a 13% share of buzz when tracked against the leading sportswear manufacturers.

But the real success story, when discussing sports brands is surely Speedo, the British swimwear manufacturer. The brand has taken the Olympics by storm, both in their athletes' pool times and in the sense that they have generated an 18% share of buzz; almost equalling the official sponsor Adidas.

TITLE: Leading sportswear brands share of buzz (Source: Onalytica)

The success for Speedo is not simply the volumes in which people have talked about the brand online. The sentiment attached to Speedo's mentions is also the most positive of all the major sportswear brands, largely due to a truly pioneering product that has benefitted athletes. The brand caused uproar from rival team coaches and perhaps most impressive of all, even managed to gain an exemption from Nike, who allowed their sponsored athletes to wear Speedo.

This, as well as some incidental gold medals and world records added to the impressive level of discussion surrounding the brand.

TITLE: Brand Sentiment for sportswear brands (Source: Onalytica)

 

The timing of the discussions about Speedo also backs up the argument that it is not necessary to become an official sponsor to generate online buzz. With the entirety of Speedo's buzz coming from within the time span of the games, it is a strong sign that the on-screen visibility and to a degree, success of a brands' "athletes" can directly affect levels of online buzz.

TITLE: Share of buzz for sportswear brands pre and during Olympics (Speedo buzz is non-existent prior to the Beijing Games) Source: Onalytica

 

Was it worth it?

When looking at the influential stakeholders on the subject of the Olympics, it is interesting to see that the online discussion has spread from sports sites such as Sports Illustrated right through to social media properties Twitter and Mixx. With this in mind, we know the Olympics can deliver the much coveted audience for brands and London 2012 is sure to be the most commercially friendly Olympics yet.  So, what can brands learn from the Beijing games?

Broadly speaking, the official sponsors haven't generated as much discussion online as other brands that associated themselves with the Olympics through other tactics. The success stories have been found where brands have been linked to the events and the participants in ways that a straightforward sponsorship can't offer.

For headline sponsors, putting your badge next to the Olympic rings isn't enough. Lenovo proved that working hard within the social media space will make a brand more memorable than other fillet-o-fishy tactics.

London 2012 is being set up to become the most sought after advertising space in history, but the lessons of Beijing show that money alone doesn't guarantee that people will discuss a brand online. Let the battle commence.

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