For marketers across the country, this is the week that it finally feels like the Olympics is truly upon us, with Locog’s marketing blackout coming into full force.
As well as the detailed social media guidelines for athletes, there are now the 250-plus, intimidatingly-titled ‘brand enforcers’ taking to the streets to ensure that no unofficial advertising activity takes place within the exclusion zone, which stretches up to 1km outside the Olympic park.
Certainly for marketers, it’s an unprecedented crackdown on ambush marketing. For many sponsors who have paid enormous sums to feature, they have in the past found themselves infuriated as their gold medal moment is ruined by a savvy competitor skirting the rules (Michael Jordan intentionally covering up his Reebok logo in 1992 being a memorable example).
This edition, it is unlikely even Paddy Power would be so bold as to dare intrude.
While it has been made clear that the burden of proof falls squarely upon the shoulders of the athletes, it’s time for plan B for many brands who have invested so much of their 2012 spend in associating themselves with Olympians.
With a cooling-off period also in effect after any medal win, as well as advertising within the village limited, it seems that there’s only one real opportunity left for the select few brands lucky enough to be inside the Olympic Park to provide a true brand experience and create lasting emotional connections - the staff on the ground.
The list is exclusive, but brands such as McDonald's, Holiday Inn and Acer will all feature staff of some kind within the Olympic village, which officially opened to athletes this week.
We’ve heard how McDonald's monopoly on Olympic food extends even as far as chips, but how can McDonald's make this opportunity of a lifetime count?
Quite simply, it’s vital for these brands to have an army of brand-ambassadors in their ranks, ready to give a flawless experience of the brand.
As interaction at the point-of-sale becomes even more diminished (see contactless payment), I think the Olympics will be another marker that shows the growing importance of what’s traditionally labelled as the ‘sales assistant’.
In order to fully exploit this expensive, but undeniably lucrative opportunity, it begins with recruitment (a hurdle that G4S hasn’t managed to successfully navigate).
Staff need to be better educated, more enthusiastic and more charismatic than ever before - not expendable drones drafted in as and when necessary.
To approach in such a fashion wouldn’t quite be suicidal, but certainly incredibly foolhardy.
McDonald's, for example, is doing lots to change perceptions of its employment opportunities, and, especially considering the inevitable criticisms it’ll come under as a sponsor, it will need to ensure staff are a positive aspect, not a liability.
Its drafting of Wayne Hemmingway to design new eco-friendly, Mad-men inspired uniforms, indicates it knows where its money will be made and lost.
At Gekko, we’re working with Acer in a slightly different capacity, but just as important. As the official hardware provider for the London Games, Acer will be responsible for the entire IT infrastructure across the village - including branded lounges for use by athletes and technicians on-site to provide support where necessary.
This isn’t just about the brand experience, or preventing things from going wrong - these staff will have to ensure they embody the Olympic spirit, and promote the Acer brand in line with its Worldwide Partner Status and the Olympic Spirit; the responsibility that comes with biggest sporting event in the world.
It’s a lot of responsibility, but it’s really about being the greatest ambassador for the brand and truly recognising the world stage you are performing on.
The athletes may be competing for gold, but so are the brands too and with the world watching, experiencing and relating to your product, whether it be visitor or athlete it's all part of your Olympic journey and our job as marketers is to make it complete.
So it is quite the daunting task, but these brands can get a real head start on what’s looking to be the evolution of the retail industry as we know it. Point of sale, promotion, direct, etc, will all have roles to play, but it is the experience that is the future.
The term brand experience is debated daily, but brands need to really start thinking seriously about just who will be delivering that experience, within the Olympics and beyond.