Media Perspective: London 2012 - faster, higher, stronger and distinctly trickier

With our World Cup dream in tatters/spectacularly reignited by the time you read this, it feels like a good time to reflect on the unique challenge of planning activity around hard-to-predict sporting events.

Irreversible bets of millions of pounds are being made on London 2012 and some people are going to end up being the patsies.

High above my office, the digital screen on the BT Tower is counting down to the start of the London Olympics; it's 764 days to go, since you ask. Despite this enormous reminder, I still don't see many people glance up. In fact, most people across the country don't spend much time thinking about what they will be doing in a couple of summers' time. For clients and agencies, however, tasked with backing the £40 million sponsorship bets they've already placed on sponsoring the Games, thinking about it is already a full-time job.

The first thing you notice is that many of our traditional insight techniques don't seem to work any more. The public have absolutely no idea how they will feel during the three-month-long party that will engulf us in 2012. Not having thought about it that much but not wanting to disappoint pushy researchers, they borrow media headlines and grumble about the "cost of the event" and possible "transport problems". Focus group moderators are struggling to get people to admit that they might, just might, find this a thrilling and important moment in their lives. In some surveys, 18- to 34-year-olds who say that they expect to enjoy the Games are running at a hilariously unlikely low of 14 per cent.

Consumers lack the right heuristics to make sense of how we will watch these Games; how we will share them and how we will want to use the opportunities that brands can give us to be involved in the experience. Remembering back four years can be tricky and it's been a while since the Games were in our time zone. Despite what we think, this won't be like the World Cup or Sydney in 2000 - we won't be watching in the pub with our mates, or for 60 minutes on breakfast TV before work. The technologies, trends and channels available to us will have moved on in the next 24 months, yet we are forced to dig deep in our experience and trust our intuition to make the bets now.

It's a heart-thumping time for ambitious and creative clients and planners. And like the Games themselves, it will be absolutely clear who are the winners and the losers. This time, there won't be a chance to retro-fit a strategy or to "take learnings forward"; there will just be clients and agencies that made the most of investments of £70 million-plus and those that blew it.

Ian Darby is away.

- Stuart Bowden is the deputy managing director of Vizeum UK.

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