New USOC supplier Oakley eschews TV ads, focuses on athletes

U.S. Olympic team supplier Oakley is using the London Design Museum — in the shadow of Tower Bridge on the Thames — as a “safe house” for its stable of athletes over the next fortnight.

“One thing that we can’t compete on is paying athletes — we cannot compete with Nike and Adidas,” said Mike Crowell, Oakley’s vice president, global product marketing. “We are about great product, great service and great relationships. We invest in those relationships by providing them experiences like this.

“They come here. They check in. They get escorted wherever they want to go. They get some food. They can watch TV. There are some Internet stations. They can sit back and watch TV with other athletes outside of the fishbowl.”

Oakley is the official eyewear supplier of Team USA, in a deal originally signed in 2010 and extended last month through 2020. Crowell said Oakley’s status as an official sponsor with the USOC, Team Great Britain and LOCOG has helped the company’s marketing efforts this year by allowing it to avoid the Olympic blackout period around the Games.

“In the past, during the Olympic blackout period, you can’t use the athlete to associate with your brand,” Crowell said. “Now, we’re using athletes to tell our brand message through the USOC and through our U.S. athletes. It’s really powerful.”

Crowell said Oakley’s association with athletes is especially important since it eschews TV advertising during the Games.

“The Olympics is an unbelievably crowded marketplace,” Crowell said. “It’s a great platform. But everybody recognizes it’s a great platform. The Procter & Gambles of the world use this as their platform. For us to do a $150 million media package to try and compete just doesn’t make any sense. We’re being more surgical, using the digital medium and using content to push out and try to make some waves.”

At Oakley’s London Design Museum “safe house,” the most popular part is the Custom Bar, where athletes can create their own glasses, from picking frames and lenses to earsocks and logos.

“We brought 67,000 pieces into this house,” Crowell said. “I went through the permutations. I think it can make up to 30 million different glasses.”

So far, around 50 to 100 athletes have used the Custom Bar, a number that’s certain to grow as the Games start.

“We’ve done this the last two Olympics,” Crowell said. “But this is the biggest — not only because we have the most athletes, we’ve never had a space this big.”

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