Earlier this week the starting pistol was fired on the Sponsorship Olympics. With the World Cup safely completed, brands and their agencies are now intensely focused on London 2012, just two short years away.
The announcement that Procter & Gamble will become the 11th global sponsor of the games shows just how serious this contest will become.
Until now the LOCOG – London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games – sponsors have, mostly, had the field to themselves.
Brands such as Lloyds Group – the first company to use the 2012 logo in its advertising – BT, Adidas and BP have all had a head start on global sponsors such as McDonald’s, Visa and Coke. But are they making it count?
My advice to anyone getting involved in blue chip sponsorships is that you should never sign on the dotted line without being totally clear about your objectives.
If you define your objectives precisely – be it trade relations, capability demonstration or sales – then the strategy is much more likely to run successfully.
What’s interesting about the LOCOG sponsors is that no two companies have had the same reason for partnering the games, hence there have been a range of differing activations.
Lloyds has, perhaps, the simplest message with its support mirroring the current advertising message of "For the journey". It was the first sponsor and has been with LOCOG throughout the journey of delivering the games.
By contrast Adidas has used its association to build accessible sports facilities and to champion grass roots participation. BT is providing vast infrastructure and showcasing its technical abilities while EDF is pushing its green energy credentials.
One brand that might want to change tactics is BP, which originally signed up to use the Olympics to build key stakeholder relations. With the Gulf oil spill doing its best to destroy those relationships, it might take more than a ticket to the wrestling to remedy the situation.
With two years to go, the one thing we can be sure of it is that partner brands will be rolling out more and more activations to support their investments.
IOC supporters such as Coca Cola and McDonald’s have long-established strategies. Similar to the Football World Cup, there will be a combination of consumer promotions, trade support, employee motivation and CSR activity that will make up their work.
Other IOC partners have different aims. IT systems company Atos Origin, for instance, has famously grown its business by showcasing its ability to work with many different suppliers at each Olympics, delivering IT support and infrastructure under huge time pressure. Its investment is recouped through contracts won on the back of the games.
LOCOG and IOC sponsors will also have to compete with supporters of individual sports such as Sky and British Cycling, British Gas and British Swimming and Siemens and British Rowing.
Although these brands will be excluded from claiming any overt association with the Games, their marketing programmes are already in full flow as interest in British Olympic hopefuls intensifies.
With two years to go, it’s fair to say that brands such as Sky, Lloyds TSB and Visa (which sponsors the British Olympic team alongside its global deal with the IOC) are already making the most of the platform for communications London 2012 has created in the UK.
Many others are well down the path in assessing what the opportunity means to them and how they will be able to leverage the Olympics.
Globally, however, the contest has only just begun.