David Bowen, partner, Bowen Craggs
David Bowen, partner, Bowen Craggs
A view from David Bowen

Think BR: What happened to teamwork?

The Olympic and Paralympic top sponsors have taken a multi-disciplined approach to their online tie-ins but win few medals for co-ordination across channels, writes David Bowen, partner, Bowen Craggs.

Big companies presumably sponsor the Olympics and Paralympics to get positive publicity. I went to the Olympic Park in London during the Games and had a variety of reactions.

I liked the pink BMWs, didn’t mind the wooden McDonald’s restaurants and was infuriated by the signs saying ‘We are proud to accept only Visa’.

But how did the companies promote themselves on the internet? Well, this was named the social media Olympics, and the focus on hashtags rather than web addresses underlines that.

British Airways’ billboards have #homeadvantage on them - people who have just got used to this being a Twitter thing are having to readjust; put it into Google and you get a Facebook and web listing, as well as a Twitter feed.

There is some clever stuff about. Fro example the British Airways ‘interactive ad’ - enter your address and see its plane go down your street - was particularly impressive. But the online efforts of the main sponsors have been mostly a bit depressing.

The main problem is the one identified in this year’s FT Bowen Craggs Index: companies seem unable to control the profusion of sites and social media channels they are now expected to offer. Surely they could have managed it for the Olympics of all things?

On their marks

A good starting point is the Partners page on the London 2012 site. The first mystery is the targets of these links - which presumably come from the companies rather than the games organisers.

With some, such as Dow, the link goes to the dotcom, in Dow’s case an Olympic-free zone unless you scroll to the bottom of the page.

The McDonald’s link, no longer live as McDonald’s is not a Paralympic Partner, went to the US home page, with promotion for its support for the US team - not clever for a page linked from a global site. Coca-Cola goes to Coke zone, a site aimed at a UK audience.

Procter & Gamble (P&G), Visa and Samsung have country ‘sniffers’ - they will go to your local site.

Whether you get anything Olympic depends on where you are, but P&G has plenty of locally adapted Olympic material.

Samsung gives you good content for a few countries but nothing for most, while Visa is a broad brush. If you live anywhere in Europe, you get the Visa Europe site.

While much of this linking seems careless, I can see why country sniffers have logic. I’m not usually keen on them for corporate sites - they are annoying if you are not in your own country and they can cut you off from valuable information (the main dot com site typically has more on it than country versions).

But if like P&G you are supporting different teams around the world, it sort of makes sense. The group has, however, made life difficult for itself in its marketing by insisting on one of the words that really divide the Anglophone world - the familiar form of mother, moms (see the US site) or mums (UK).

Social media has made it more difficult to keep up the separation: the UK site links to a ‘mom’ YouTube video.

BP has a rather simpler answer. It supports half a dozen teams and links to information about them from its 2012 microsite which is in turn promoted on the group home page.

Shame that it doesn’t give locals much of a clue: the single BP.com page on Egypt has no link to the bilingual area on the country’s athletes on the 2012 site. US athletes do better, with their own site, but again signposting is weak.

Remote venues

This feeling of confusion increased as I clicked my way through the sites and channels. There is plenty of good material, but much of it is easy to miss.

Coca-Cola has a big campaign running: Move to the Beat lets you pair a sport with a type of music, see the result, and upload it. You will find it if you get to Coke zone, but go to coca-cola.com (or coke.com) and you find yourself on the US home page - where there is nothing at all about the Olympics.

Especially odd as the main Beat page is within this site. If you are French, however, you will be directed from coca-cola.fr to the English language Move to the Beat Facebook page; there are many variations on this on other country sites.

Meanwhile, British people going to coca-cola.co.uk are offered a jolly time creating a personalised Olympic newspaper - but there is no link to this from Coke zone.

Dow, so coy about the Olympics on its home page, has a nice feature that can only be found by clicking its down-page logo: a periodic table with Olympic links from the elements.

Did you know that boron helps gives hockey sticks their strength or that hammer throwers practise with tungsten-filled throwing weights? Someone went to a lot of trouble creating this - why not encourage us to look at it?

Running in separate lanes

Panasonic offers the opportunity to create your own avatar and ‘run’ the Olympic marathon through London.

But this is on panasonic.net - the global site that I suspect few people will find. Panasonic is one of many Japanese companies that have let their US subsidiaries hang on to the dotcom address.

The US site links to my favourite Olympic Facebook app: superimpose a country flag on your face and post it on your page.

Brits meanwhile can look at a tasteful picture gallery of GB medal winners on panasonic.co.uk . All good stuff - but with a bit of coordination, everyone could surely have seen everything.

Facebook’s ability to run apps makes it ideal for interactive fun. YouTube is great for video and Twitter is for, well, tweets. But companies’ lack of coordination between them makes it less likely that all the people you want to will see everything you produce.

It is vanishingly rare for any company to say ‘right we have all these channels, we need to link them in a way that will not confuse our visitors, what do we do?’. ‘Just add a link’ seems to be about as strategic as it gets. That, of course, is a point that goes well beyond the Olympics.

No pain no gain

But the companies I was most surprised by are those that don’t seem to have tried very hard at all.

Acer has little on its site, even though if you went to the park during the Olympics or go during the Paralympics you will find a great big pavilion.

And Visa should not be proud of itself at all. The Visa Europe site combines an old-fashioned attempt to be dynamic - an irritating counter to show ‘the number of transactions processed by Visa Europe today’ (but not really, the total is ‘as forecast by analysts’) with a dull look and some seriously boring copy.

I am also disappointed with General Electric, the company that used to build its marketing around the word ‘imagination’.

I clicked from the ge.com home page to its Healthy Share Facebook page, and was asked if I had played ‘soccer’ today. If I had, I would have got a point.

This is the site that used to have a whiteboard where you could draw anything you wanted - an app way before the word was invented. GE, have you lost your imagination?

David Bowen, partner, Bowen Craggs