Olympic Roundtable: Experts weigh in on brands, ambush marketing

From left, Radiate Group's Jan Katzoff, The Marketing Arm's Mary O'Connor and IMG's Gary Pluchino
With the Olympics beginning to wind down, we pulled together a small group of sports marketing executives on the ground to talk about how the London Games have gone and how they will be remembered.

The group met at Casa Brazil, home to Rio 2016, in Somerset House on the Strand. It was comprised of Jan Katzoff, the Radiate Group’s executive vice president; Mary O’Connor, The Marketing Arm’s vice president of Olympic marketing and global partnerships; and Gary Pluchino, IMG senior vice president and head of global Olympic consulting. Between them, they work with more than 20 Olympic sponsors.

We split the conversation into two parts. The first is on brands and what organizers have done. Friday, we’ll hit on legacy and what Sochi 2014 and Rio 2016 can learn from London. Both were edited.

What brands that you aren’t working with have done the best job marketing around these Olympics?

PLUCHINO: It’s hard to say who’s done the best. Everyone’s got different objectives and different budgets.

O’CONNOR: Visa’s campaign has taken a new twist. I love the David Boudia spot from Dubai. It’s ingenious integrating different athletes into different countries. The spot says, on average, he makes 25,000 dives a year, I believe, and it’s simulated as if it’s 180 dives off the world’s tallest building in Dubai. It’s fantastic creative.

BMW's Mini has played a support role at the Olympic Stadium.
I’m also intrigued by how BMW infiltrated the sponsor-free venue of the stadium to get their vehicles actually in there.

Not once but twice because BMW got a Mini into the opening ceremony as well.

KATZOFF: Yes. That was the first time that’s happened since Atlanta.

PLUCHINO: Also, I think we had Mr. Bean with a Samsung Galaxy.

KATZOFF: Samsung is the one that really got through to me. Not only because of what they’ve done with the Olympics, but the fact that they could time the product launch to get it out right now with all of this going on. … The mobile payments, I don’t know if you’ve seen that phone and its payments, what they’ve done with Visa is amazing.

PLUCHINO: Honestly, not just because two people who work with them are here, I like what BP has done. From an integration perspective, what they’ve done on the Park, how they’ve integrated athletes, what they’ve done at USA House, all of the things moving around the city that I’ve seen — I think they’ve done a very good job. They have a specific objective they’re trying to reach.

British heptathlete Jessica Ennis has become a face of the Games in London.
I’m impressed with what they’ve done with (British heptathlete) Jessica Ennis, too. She obviously has a lot of sponsors, but they jumped in there early. I remember being here a year and a half ago and her face was staring at me from every gas pump. She’s become the face of the Games.

If those brands get an A grade, what sponsors get demerits?

PLUCHINO: I’ll give you one that’s missed the opportunity. It’s Acer. They have a nice, big facility out there at Olympic Park, but it’s truly a product showcase. It’s a computer show. I’ve heard people come out of it saying, “It isn’t interactive. It’s not any fun.”

Could the IOC learn something from that? You can’t make a company activate, but couldn’t you be more selective in who your sponsors are?

PLUCHINO: It’s not quite that easy. Everybody has their own objectives. Everybody is able to leverage how they want as long as it’s in the rules. In theory, you’re right, but they still have open slots in the TOP program that they’re trying to fill.

Mary, did you have someone you didn’t feel like connected on this stage?

O’CONNOR: I haven’t seen anyone who I say, “I wish they’d done more.” The one company I haven’t seen a lot of, and it may be because I’m in my little hole, is: I’ve seen a lot of Omega people, but I haven’t seen what they’re doing.

KATZOFF: SportsMark (a Radiate agency) is managing their hospitality. Their major activation is Soho House. It’s very exclusive. They’re doing all their brand ambassador programs there. We did the Greg Norman media event there talking about golf coming back to the Olympics. They did their Astronaut program there.

The only one for me, and like Mary said, it’s not fair to be critical of programs we’re not involved in, but I’m just trying to figure out why McDonald’s seems to be pretty quiet to me for a worldwide sponsor.

O’CONNOR: I like the storefront (restaurant on Olympic Park). I went so that I could say I was at the world’s biggest McDonald’s.

On the ambush front, there was the brand police issue coming into this, but there’s been no real ambush issues arise during the Games. Are you surprised?

O’CONNOR: (Knocking on the wooden table) Compared to Vancouver, where I spent 90 percent of my time dealing with ambush against our clients, this Games has been a dream come true.

PLUCHINO: We haven’t had any problems. We haven’t heard much, either. There was the Dr. Dre Beat headphones, but that’s the only thing you’re hearing.

So what’s the takeaway from how quiet it’s been in regards to ambush? What needs to be done similarly to ensure this happens in 2014 and 2016?

O’CONNOR: A lot of it has to do with the education that’s come from what happened in Vancouver and Beijing, and the simple fact that the British government did a fantastic job of making it against the law to ambush. It’s brilliant. It’s smart. It protects sponsor rights.

KATZOFF: The last two years of work have really paid off. A lot of times it really becomes a Games-time operation (to prevent ambush), but here there was a lot of work and a lot of thought and a lot of compliance issues that were put together. When you look at us together and the number of brands we’re activating here, it’s been remarkable.

What about the downside of enforcement measures, such as forcing the local barbershop to take down the five-ring logo, which happened in limited cases around the city? Is the lesson for future cities to strike a balance between stopping Pepsi from ambushing and allowing local retailers to celebrate?

PLUCHINO: There’s a line when it comes to the local barbershop celebrating the Olympics and welcoming the world and a commercial link between that. Using your local barbershop example, if they hang the Olympic rings in their window, should they be hit with whatever fine?

KATZOFF: I would say looking forward that it’s more on the consumer retail side. None of us can control what the Tesco’s and Sainsbury’s (U.K. grocers) and other retail outlets are doing. The other thing is with the way businesses are changing, is Walmart a store or a bank? There are category issues. Also, some of these retailers are doing everything they can to move product around. The harder part down the line is controlling that third-party, retail affiliation. But overall, (ambush) hasn’t been an issue.

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