After a seven-year roller-coaster ride of emotions, from excitement and pride through cynicism and fatigue, all eyes are now on London 2012.
The public mood clearly shifted in the final lead-up to the opening ceremony. While the nation has been swept up in the feel-good factor of the Jubilee and last year's royal wedding, which reportedly sparked a longer-term £2bn boost to UK tourism, the effect of the Olympics will be on another level.
As Tim Crow, chief executive of sponsorship agency Synergy, put it in January - when Marketing signposted the major trends for 2012 - the Olympics can be likened to '17 days of a royal wedding'. At the very least, the air of national celebration combined with 'recession escapism' should present a welcome relief to brands.
Positive sentiment toward the Olympics was around the mid-70% mark heading into the start of the Games, according to Cameron Hughes, head of brand at EDF Energy.
However, while this positivity offers a glimpse of the overall Olympics 'feeling', it does not reflect attitudes toward the sponsors, which hit a new low this weekend due to the scandal over empty seats. So, has there been a shift when it comes to consumers getting behind the sponsors? All Hughes will say is that 'it's up to all the sponsors to contribute positively to the Games'.
Nonetheless, McDonald's chief executive Jill McDonald is more direct, admitting that the negative press comes with the territory when you are a polarising brand (see box, page 10). 'I am not going to worry about other sponsors or what the media is writing about,' she says. 'I am only worried about what our customers think.'
While the years of pre-event brand planning should ensure an overall success over the course of the Games' 17 days - with selected stats to back up brands' 'personal bests' likely to emerge in the following months - there remains a strong likelihood of isolated incidents going wrong. As Hughes concedes: 'To what degree does any plan ever go 100% as you think?'
What is guaranteed, though, is that brands' reactions to negative events during this 'social-media Olympics' will come under intense scrutiny.
It is undoubtedly easy to get caught up in the celebratory overtones, but not everyone is painting the Games as an all-out win for the UK. Daniel Tarling-Hunter, economist at Euromonitor, suggests that the 'glow' may not radiate much further than London.
He says: 'The extra tourists will support growth in London's retail and tourism sectors for Q3. However we are not expecting any extensive growth in other areas of the country. Many politicians are hailing the Games as a significant opportunity for growth, but the ongoing crisis in the Eurozone and austerity measures in the public sector are likely to dampen demand.'
The brand highlights
Sponsors might have secured their exclusive corner of the Olympics, but many more brands are taking advantage of the influx of an estimated 600,000 extra tourists to Britain in July and August, with 300,000 of those staying at least one night in London.
Several brands, including Specsavers, Paddy Power and Oddbins, are also goading LOCOG with Olympics-inspired marketing activity that tests the limits of the regulations.
Below, Marketing highlights one-to-ones with major sponsors McDonald's and EDF, and offers an early look at some of the best examples of brands hoping to cut through the clutter and capture the mood of the nation.
- What are the challenges of brand activation around the Olympics?
We thought long and hard about the link between our brand and the Olympics.
We are the people's restaurant, and, therefore, we thought the campaign idea 'We all make the Games' was democratic. It will be our fans, our volunteers, and our crew in the busy restaurants. You have to think upfront and make sure it is not a lazy association.
- How important is ROI from London 2012?
We haven't done a massive financial exercise. It is important just to get a feel from our customers and crew. We know that (the Olympic connection) is something that customers enjoy, and we can see positive measures on our brand metrics.
- Did you deliberately launch your Olympic campaign later than other sponsors?
We launched the TV campaign a couple of weeks ago, as we felt we wanted it close to the emotion of the Olympics.
We invested in the message about the quality of the ingredients. This may sound disconnected from the Olympics, but we don't think it was, because half of LOCOG's food vision centres on British provenance.
- Did you expect the negative press that McDonald's has attracted?
When you are a high-profile brand and you can polarise opinion, it comes with the territory a bit. It does, though, give us another opportunity to explain why we are involved in the Games.
We know from 36 years of experience that we are a popular choice, and we built these restaurants because we need them, as we will be busy. I'm not going to worry about other sponsors or what the media writes. I am only worried about what our customers think. We can provide facts so people can make up their own minds.
'Brands can't passively integrate their communications - we are almost becoming part of the conversation through "Energy of the nation", rather than going for logo domination,' says tier-one sponsor EDF's head of brand, Cameron Hughes (pictured).
'The project is all about reflecting the giant Olympic conversation, authentically showing it in its entirety. If it does turn negative, the light show will continue; at no point do we ask 'Do we switch it off?'
The level of positivity has been increasing steadily with some evident peaks and troughs - it hit 84% when Bradley Wiggins won the Tour de France and was at a low point when David Beckham failed to make Team GB. We are fairly confident that positivity toward the Games will continue to grow.
No time to relax
Part of me wishes that now the Games has begun, we could just sit back and see what happens. After all, we got in early with our communications, starting with 'Team Green Britain' in 2009.
However, the social-media programme around 'Energy of the nation' is very active and ongoing. We need to react to the data as it comes in, plus the social-media commentary. We are taking live feeds and mining them for insights, then feeding that to different news outlets. It is a living, breathing activation and will be until the Paralympics finishes.
As you can imagine, we have done a lot of planning and got our risk mitigation processes in place. We are confident the processes are robust. Will it go 100% to plan? To what degree does any plan ever go 100% as you think? But everyday, we are meeting with the integrated agency teams to optimise activity as the campaign goes along. We are geared up for all the potential outcomes and associated risk.'
Millions of viewers around the world were captivated by Danny Boyle's vision of Britain, portrayed in the opening ceremony.
A big part of the show was dedicated to technology, closing with a social-media theme. The biggest spike in mentions came during the London Symphony Orchestra's rendition of Chariots of Fire, which was accompanied by a comedic turn by Rowan Atkinson. Over the weekend, Twitter users generated about 10m tweets on the extravaganza, more than were posted during the whole of the Beijing Olympics, demonstrating the adoption rate of Twitter.
- Nike beats Adidas
Nike won the first battle against its arch-rival Adidas. The non-sponsor's promoted hashtag #findgreatness trended worldwide alongside the #olympicceremony hashtag, with Adidas nowhere to be seen.
Meanwhile, Twitter users were even blamed for disrupting television coverage of the cycling road races, as their updates jammed transmissions of race information, prompting the IOC to - rather laughably - ask fans to send only 'urgent' updates.
However, the Olympics hasn't broken any Twitter records yet (this year's Super Bowl averaged 10,000 tweets per second - the highest during a sports match). It will be interesting to see whether the men's 100m final rivals that figure.
- Huge audience for Opening Ceremony
- Sponsors deny blame for empty seats
- Virgin boss Branson mocks sponsor BA in London guide
- Yahoo! makes Olympic TV return
- Adidas and Nike lock horns in Olympic battle
- Google joins the Olympic party
- Specsavers flags up Korean error
- Paddy Power leads anti-LOCOG stunts ... and Oddbins follows suit