Triumph over adversity. These three words symbolise what we love about the Olympic Games—the compelling stories about the journey that world-class competitors take to reach the pinnacle of athletic achievement. These storylines, along with the unique benefit of galvanising countries in the interest of seeing their nation's flag represented on the podium, triumphant, for all the world to see, are the core reasons why the Olympic Games is one of the most popular events in the world.
The 2022 iteration of the Games has had a slightly different reception. Not attributed in any way, shape, or form to the incredible athletic feats of the participants but, rather the political, social, and public-health-related concerns and considerations surrounding the event. Accordingly, several brands have scaled back their sponsorship and advertising presence during the upcoming games, acutely aware of those issues and the perception thereof.
How can brands, who invest significant resources to sponsor these events, for the brand association, impactful consumer engagement and shared equity at the pinnacle of emotional resonance, potentially mitigate extrinsic factors such as this, going forward? The cultivation of the borderless community engagement mechanisms accelerated by a global pandemic and underpinned by the resulting technological and social advancement could be the answer.
Let's look at the metaverse
The definition of the metaverse and the seemingly infinite possibilities that its advent can ultimately provide is still being debated. There have also been many definitions in the collective consciousness but, to paraphrase Matthew Ball, an expert on the topic, I'm not certain there is a singular definition.
It operates differently for different use cases and for different needs.
It is no secret that the past few years have hastened the rise of several trends, including digital transformation and adoption. While its design was to mitigate the lack of direct physical connection, it also unlocked the possibilities that exist from a digital perspective and may very well serve as an elixir for similar prominent events.
What does it mean for brand sponsorship?
Sponsorship has evolved into many forms over the years, spanning the physical, digital and now, even virtual. Created spaces, worlds and communities infinitely broaden the aperture through which savvy brand messaging can reach an impassioned consumer. The metaverse also presents interesting applications to the stratospheric growth of digital collectibles in the marketplace, serving as a mechanism to showcase unique creative outputs.
From a sponsorship perspective, we've just scratched the surface of what sort of virtual inventory and brand integration can occur. In addition to properties being able to create replica venues, like Verizon and Epic Games so effectively did during their Super Bowl LV activation, there are also infinite, additional possibilities for world creation and thus mechanisms for brands to connect with their audiences.
Luxury apparel companies, such as Gucci, have also found success in the metaverse, engaging with Roblox to create a Gucci Garden space, where users could purchase digital merchandise and collectibles. This is a new creative outlet of expression for a more digitally native consumer, as used to interacting with their respective communities in a virtual environment as they are in a physical one.
Inversely, brands are working on creating their own iterations, to leverage federation, league or team/club intellectual property in new and interesting ways to connect with their core audiences, even outside a traditional, physical retail environment. The potential for exclusive drops, NFTs or other digital merchandise in a virtual environment is almost endless.
While there are several aspects of live events that are uncontrolled, what we can control is ensuring the use of mechanisms to protect brand investments. Connection with community through a shared, communal experience is not only predicated on the live event—and leveraging technology can ensure at least portions of it will remain uninterrupted. Borderless, ubiquitous engagement with almost limitless creative possibility: its promise is a reflection of endless potential, much like the Olympic Games themselves.
It will be increasingly critical for brands to find their place in this valuable and fertile territory to ensure the amplification of their partnerships in both a digital and physical environment. Perhaps, ultimately, the definition of the metaverse is moot—its growth and evolution will be predicated less on semantics, and more on the ability to add and unlock value for fans and consumers. And, as long as brands and properties are focused on that, triumph over unexpected adversity seems a bit less like the impossible and a bit more like the achievable.
Sampson Yimer is vice-president, sponsorship consulting, at Momentum Worldwide