As Bridgestone Chief Risk Officer Christine Karbowiak scanned the room during the signing ceremony for the company’s Olympic sponsorship earlier this month, she took inventory of the nationalities represented. There were Americans, Germans, Japanese, French, Koreans and people from several other nations in the room.
“It was kind of like, ‘Whoa,’” Karbowiak said. “It was really international and that was way cool.”
“To become a truly global company, you need to be able to communicate a brand message consistently,” Karbowiak said. “Looking for that platform came together at the same time [we were] having the conversations with the IOC.”
Bridgestone opened talks with the IOC last year after Tokyo, where the company is headquartered, was awarded the 2020 Summer Olympics. Representatives from the company attended the 2014 Sochi Games and finalized an agreement to become the IOC’s 11th TOP sponsor, and first new worldwide sponsor since 2010.
The deal gives Bridgestone exclusivity through 2024 in three categories: tires, non-motorized bicycle categories, and seismic isolation rubber used in bridges and infrastructure. Karbowiak said the company, which also makes golf clubs and balls, discussed the golf category with the IOC, but both parties found it too complicated to include in the agreement.
“This helps us elevate the brand to a global stage,” Karbowiak said. “People in Japan know the Bridgestone brand. In the U.S., it’s getting better and things like the NFL partnership and the NHL partnership and the PGA Tour relationship have helped increase visibility. The Olympics really is a universal language and it communicates with everyone.”
Bridgestone’s worldwide exclusivity won’t kick in until 2017. For the 2016 Rio Games, it will be able to activate only in Brazil, the U.S., Korea and Japan. Karbowiak said that the company plans to spend the next two years learning how the Olympics works and testing promotions in Brazil, the U.S., Korea and Japan before debuting a global marketing program around the sponsorship in 2017.
“This is a great way to create learnings and hit it hard before the Pyeongchang Games [in 2018],” Karbowiak said.
Bridgestone plans to spend the next month determining how it will structure a marketing team to work on the TOP sponsorship. The company’s chief marketer is headquartered in Japan, but Bridgestone drew on its European and Americas marketing teams in evaluating the Olympic opportunity.
Karbowiak said the company plans to talk to the IOC and other TOP sponsors about how they have structured their marketing teams and developed effective marketing programs in the past. Bridgestone plans to promote its TOP sponsorship in 20-plus markets, including Europe, Latin America, China, India and Australia.
“We see a number of opportunities that will be measurable [in those markets],” said Karbowiak, who declined to disclose how Bridgestone will measure its return on investment. “This is a long-term investment for us. This is a 10-year opportunity. We need to be focused on making this a hallmark for building our brand on a global basis.”