Let the Olympic countdown begin: 500 days to go!
With the London 2012 Olympics enshrined in marketing history, the Team GB brand must meet ever-increasing consumer expectations, writes Nicola Kemp.
The London 2012 Olympic Games may now be a distant memory, but it is testament to the event’s phenomenal impact on the British sporting psyche that, ahead of the forthcoming Rugby World Cup hitting the UK in September, sponsors still want to build on its unique spirit.
For Team GB, London 2012 represented an incredible story of sporting success: 65 medals won, compared with the 15 medals picked up in Atlanta in 1996.
The courage, endurance and emotional and physical commitment of the country’s athletes also delivered the kind of storytelling that most marketers can only dream of.
The London Olympics also left a significant marketing legacy; not least the benefits of taking a side, demonstrated by the success of Adidas’ ‘Take the stage’ campaign. From a brand perspective, London 2012 was nothing short of genre-defining, but is the road to Rio paved with marketing gold?
From a marketing perspective, in many ways, Rio 2016 – the ‘500 days to go’ milestone was passed in March – represents Team GB’s equivalent to ‘that difficult second album’.
While any marketer would be tempted to bask in London 2012’s glory, translating its home advantage abroad is a big challenge. Simon Massie-Taylor, commercial director at the British Olympic Association, is unfazed by this and ready to build on London 2012’s legacy.
"London 2012 did inspire a generation, it had a huge impact and the legacy element in terms of rising participation is clear to see," he says. According to Team GB, nearly 25,000 schools and 5.8m pupils are actively involved in Get Set, the organisation’s youth-engagement programme.
Despite the tremendous success of London 2012, Team GB shows no signs of believing it is now entitled to greater commercial backing.
Instead of resting on its laurels it has dedicated its time to a significant research project, carried out by Krow, to evaluate and evolve its brand. The results of the research informed the creation of a new strapline, ‘Believe in extraordinary’.
The evolution of storytelling: stories worth telling
At the heart of Team GB’s refreshed marketing strategy is content. While most marketing professionals like nothing more than to wax lyrical about the power of storytelling, Team GB couldn’t wish for a better subject than the athletes’ backstories.
"When we researched what our fans and stakeholders want from us, the stories behind our athletes were key – it is our USP," says Leah Davis, head of marketing at Team GB.
Indeed, the research showed consumers were twice as likely to be interested in the stories behind the athletes than in those of other sporting teams, such as rugby union’s British and Irish Lions, or the football club they support. The brand has also significantly grown its digital footprint, giving it a greater platform from which to tell these stories.
Despite the relatively small size of the country, Team GB is the number-one Olympic team on Twitter globally, by number of followers, and the fourth-biggest national team on Facebook in the UK (based on its number of fans).
It experienced a 2000% increase in its social following during London 2012. Team GB hopes that partner brands will help tell these stories through marketing partnerships and investment.
As Massie-Taylor explains: "From a marketing perspective we are asset-rich and cash-poor, and we lean on our partners to get our message out there."
A new role model for success
Sporting superstars and humility are somewhat unlikely bedfellows; in contrast to the excess and foul play endemic in football, Team GB offers brands a more authentic partnership proposition.
"Footballers are catapulted into stardom and wealth, whereas Olympic athletes have to put in years of training. They are people who have been training at your local swimming pool for years. The effort involved really resonates with people," says Massie-Taylor.
According to Team GB’s research, seven out of 10 young people say that Team GB athletes have replaced music stars and footballers as role models. "Jessica Ennis-Hill is a superstar, but she is an ordinary person and people relate to that.
There is a genuine connection with Team GB; people feel like they can stop them in the street and talk to them, while older consumers feel they are a great example of the rewards of effort and commitment," adds Davis.
The internal advantage
In the biggest peacetime mobilisation of people since World War II, the 70,000 Olympics volunteers left a significant marketing legacy. From a business perspective, London 2012 treated UK plc to a vision of what corporate Britain could be like if people actually cared about what they were doing.
It’s a vision that brands are already seizing on as an internal marketing platform. Helen Normoyle, chief marketing officer at furniture retailer DFS, which signed a deal with Team GB last year, says its sponsorship is important for the brand at an internal level.
She adds: "It’s our intention to ensure that our sponsorship of Team GB becomes a genuine partnership that all employees can benefit from.
We hope to learn more about how to maximise performance in our everyday working lives and how Team GB’s philosophy, that everything is underpinned by values of responsibility, unity, pride and respect, can engage our own teams and work alongside our own vision, mission and values."
Patriotism without the baggage
With Rio poised to raise the Team GB brand back up the marketing agenda, it is firmly focused on building commercial partnerships as well as a portfolio of licensing partners.
The Olympic Games is still the sporting property that most people in the UK pay attention to, with fans spanning demographic and cultural divides.
"The Team GB brand is so non-divisive and that spirit of togetherness sets us apart," says Massie-Taylor. Indeed, many marketers have made no secret of their desire to build on this spirit around the Rugby World Cup in September.
However, Will Saunders, managing partner at Krow, counters: "The Rugby World Cup will massively divide people in the UK and you only need to look at the scenes of racism from Chelsea supporters in Paris to witness some of the problems facing football."
He believes that, in contrast, Team GB encapsulates something unique; namely "patriotism without the baggage". A team that brands can not only buy into, but believe in.