Branding – the Olympics vs the World Cup

17 Jun 2010 by Randall Helms, 2 Comments »

Note: this is an extended version of a comment I left on a LinkedIn thread comparing the brand strengths of the Olympics and the World Cup

Since the World Cup in South Africa is now finally starting to hit its stride, it’s worth thinking for a moment about its brand strength as compared to the Olympics, the other major quadrennial global sports event.

Answering the question of which of the World Cup or the Olympics has the stronger brand is almost impossible, because they are such powerful and distinctive brands that excel in such different ways.

One thing that I can say for certain is that the Olympics is a more distinctive brand, because there isn’t really anything else like it.

Although on a global level the World Cup is the more popular event, it is just another football tournament, albeit clearly the biggest. There are many other football tournaments, whether at international level (the European Championships, the Copa America, the Africa Cup of Nations, etc) or at club level (Champions League, Copa Libertadores, etc), so the World Cup is merely a larger version of these other events.

The Olympics, however, is distinct because it hand draws together so many different sports that are otherwise separate in the public consciousness for the intervening four years (such as tennis and track and field). In particular, the strength of the Olympics brand guarantees mass attention every four years to sports that are otherwise largely outside of global consciousness, such as archery or curling. Without wishing to offend the practitioners of such sports, it is clear that it is only in the spotlight of the Olympics that they are able to transcend their ordinary anonymity.

Of course, it’s an open question as to whether ‘more distinctive’ translates into ‘stronger’ when talking about a brand, but what is certainly not in doubt is that the strength of these two brands is such that associating with them costs major brands huge amounts in sponsorship fees, although it it is not always clear whether or not it is worth it, as this article about the 2008 Beijing Olympics points out:

In this economic climate of belt-tightening, many now believe Olympic sponsorship deals might start dropping in price.

“To an extent, yes, this is the high-water mark,” Wolf says. “China is the great game. China is where everybody wants to be. And so much of the reason people are sponsoring these games is to make a lasting impression on the Chinese government and the Chinese people.”

And so the sponsors enter the final stretch of their record-breaking campaigns …

But London may not be willing to take such draconian steps. So far only eight out of 12 of the top sponsors have signed up for the 2012 games. And with the Internet threatening broadcasters’ dominance, some analysts are even beginning to ask if the economic model that sustains the games could be under threat.

Brands sponsor major sporting events because they want to be associated with those characteristics that consumers ascribe to elite level sports – charisma, flair, grit, elegance, determination, fun, and so on; and they also want access to the guaranteed attention of such a broad swathe of humanity.

However, as with traditional advertising vehicles like television or newspapers, it seems that event sponsorship can no longer deliver what it once could, since media consumption habits have fragmented. As an example, with this World Cup I personally have watched a large number of games online through the ITV or BBC portals. This then obviously opens up the question of how to better extract value from sponsorship, yet surprisingly the major World Cup sponsors seem to have done relatively little to promote their associations through social media.

Facebook itself has published a guide to using Facebook for connecting with the World Cup, but I have to say that I am surprised that none of the major brands seem to have decided to use Facebook for World Cup-related campaigns. Interesting!


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  1. John Faulds says:

    One thing that I can say for certain is that the Olympics is a more distinctive brand, because there isn’t really anything else like it.

    I thnk you’re forgetting the Commonwealth Games.

  2. … and like that, most of my argument is moot. Oh well. ;)

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