By  on February 10, 2010

The power of personality is alive and well for Winter Olympics marketers.

Brands are putting their prestige and cash behind top gold medal contenders, such as snowboarder Shaun White and skier Lindsey Vonn, even as some major television sponsors, including General Motors and Johnson & Johnson, opt out of the Games, which get under way Friday in Vancouver. NBC, which has the TV rights, has projected a $200 million loss — a combination of soft advertising and the $820 million rights fee it paid.

Decisions on how to spend marketing and ad dollars are influenced by a range of factors, including a brand’s image and goals as well as social media and other technology-driven alternatives that compete for consumers with shorter attention spans and fewer dollars.

“It’s a no-brainer,” Robert Passikoff, president of Brand Keys Inc., said of sponsoring a top athlete. “You want to be associated with a winner, and if [an athlete] specifically reinforces your brand’s values, that’s a good thing.” And most important, consumers “think better of you.”

Passikoff said some corporate sponsors are exploring different options for their marketing because many 18- to 34-year-olds, the sweet spot for advertisers, are not being “engaged” by conventional television commercials.

“[Companies] just don’t see a correlation to sales,” he said.

At the same time, marketing consultant Jack Trout, president of Trout and Partners, said social media sites are “still a work in progress,” andFacebook and Twitter “don’t lend themselves to storytelling.”

Citing Nike Inc.’s long association with Michael Jordan, Trout said: “You have to connect with your prospective [consumer]. They have to say that if an athlete they admire is using a particular product, ‘I want to be like them.’”

The Olympics are a venue for drama and national pride and entice athletic and other brands because it meshes with their DNA, Passikoff said.

That’s the case with Polo Ralph Lauren Corp., which Passikoff said is a good fit for the U.S. Olympic team because of its identification with Americana.

Polo designed the uniforms for U.S. athletes for the opening and closing ceremonies, as well as a collection of apparel and accessories for them to wear in the Olympic Village.

Outfitting the team presents challenges. David Lauren, senior vice president of advertising, marketing and corporate communications for Polo, said working with hundreds of athletes ranging from waiflike figure skaters to beefy skiers is “quite an undertaking.” It also represents something more.

“It’s in keeping with our company philosophy — that’s why we did it,” he said. “We’ve been proud to use the flag on our products for over 40 years.”

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