For the Olympics Brand, Real Risks in Rio and Beyond

21 Jul 2016|Added Value

This article was written by Added Value’s Helen Firth, Joanna Franchini and Leslie Pascaud for Kantar Insights US.

The near-term risks to the Olympics brand posed by the chosen site of the 2016 Games are significant. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff suspended and replaced by an all-male, all-white government, conflicting sharply with Olympics ideals of diversity and gender equality. Local workers going unpaid or striking, potentially setting off Rio to the world as a playground for the entitled at the expense of the poor and lower-income, also sharply at odds with core Olympics values.

And from a logistical standpoint, local customs workers staying home as the city prepares to welcome tens of thousands of visitors. Fears of Zika scaring others away. Unfinished competition venues, a local “bacteria bay”, and a jaguar shot dead after participating in a torch relay. The discredited Russian Olympians are the only blemish of so many that can’t be attributed to Rio or Brazil.

Amidst this welter of challenges on the ground, the Olympics brand of excellence, friendship and respect already appears to be at real risk, not only due to what may—though hopefully will not—happen during the Games, but to the fact that the inner workings of the Games from both a political and a production standpoint have become even more apparent to the public in the run-up to Rio, after some sausage-making was visible in the lead-up to the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi.

On top of these challenges come recent global developments, including proliferating pop-up terrorist attacks, intra-national strife and political uncertainty.

Consumers increasingly expect brands to inhabit the real world and have something meaningful to say about it. More and more, they see brands as legitimate actors and agents of change, which is both a responsibility and a challenge. The Olympics may be no different. Against the current backdrop of worldwide anxiety and local turmoil, the Games might present the right moment at the right time for a global pause to bring people together and remind us that what unites us is bigger than what divides us. However, it’s also possible that the traditional Olympics message set of national pride and global goodwill could come across as naïve, tone deaf or both.

Between the exposure of its inner workings and a messaging misfire, the Olympics may be at real risk of seeming outdated as a representation of what brings the world together and what values are most important, even if the athletes themselves continue to appeal as representing the best we have to offer. When so many countries and peoples are divided amongst themselves over who they really are, can the Games, and sports in general, still be seen as a go-to unifier, or will they come across as an irrelevant distraction?

Sponsoring brands may play mixed roles. Some may follow in the Games’ footsteps with the traditional messages and risk appearing out of touch. Others may prove more agile and in tune with consumers and get out in front, using the Games as a vehicle for campaigns that address our current cultural realities and providing a path forward for the less nimble, biennially exposed Olympics brand.

Simply put, Rio may spur an intervention for the Olympics—a moment when it becomes clear that the brand needs to refresh or even reinvent itself to appear more self-aware and more in touch. Watch this space for our verdict and get in touch if Added Value can help you with strategic marketing that works.

Article written by Helen Firth, Senior Vice President AV NY Joanna Franchini Strategic Director AV NY and Leslie Pascaud, Executive Vice-President Branding and Sustainable Innovation AV NY.

Image source: Kantar Insights US blog post.

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