The PyeongChang Winter Olympics are finally here. The ‘peace’-themed opening ceremony kicks off at 8 pm KST tonight, launching 19 days of skating, skiing, skeleton and more in two Olympic villages, where temperatures are currently hovering around the freezing mark.
For brands with sponsorship and partnership deals, both the stakes and the opportunites are high. PyeongChang will likely be the most ‘connected’ Games ever held. Bloomberg’s Innovation Index ranked South Korea the most innovative country in the world for the fifth consecutive year last month. It also has the highest level of smartphone usage in the world, according to the Pew Research Centre, with 88% penetration—so high that street signs in Seoul now caution against crossing roads while staring at devices.
The PyeongChang Games are also the first of a trio of Olympic Games in the region, with Tokyo 2020 and Beijing 2022 just around the corner, making it an ideal testing ground for campaigns and innovations. We spoke to four Olympic partners to take the temperature of their marketing strategies, expectations and fears around this year’s Games.
Venue initiatives and nationwide projects
Two venues in South Korea will be hosting the majority of events. The PyeongChang Mountain Cluster includes the Olympic stadium and biathlon centre, while the Gangneung Coastal Cluster holds the hockey centre and ice arena, among others.
1.07 million tickets were available for the Games, and the latest estimates say 78% of these have been sold. That’s an audience of 834,000 passing through the venues, a sizable opportunity for brands.
McDonald’s is excited about these Games because it has been 30 years both since the Olympics were last in Korea and since McDonald’s first opened its doors in Seoul. The brand is opening two restaurants, both in Gangneung. One will provide free meals for athletes while the other, shaped like a giant hamburger meal with burger, fries and a drink, will serve guests to the Games. McDonalds is also doing its bit for CSR by donating Games tickets to underprivileged Koreans.
Coca-Cola, meanwhile, which has been a partner of the Olympic Games since 1928, will run an Olympic ‘pin-trading’ centre in PyeongChang, a Coke tradition that began at the 1988 Games in Calgary, whereby collectors meet to swap the enamel pins issued by Olympic committees and bid cities. In PyeongChang there will also be a ‘Taste The Feeling’ outdoor gallery branded with iconic Coke designs.
Procter & Gamble, a relatively new Games sponsor having first got involved with the Vancouver Olympics in 2010, is setting up a ‘P&G family house’ in the Olympic village, as it did in London. “We know that many athletes like their parents to be part of the Games, but they need to be focused and they won’t have time to take care of their families, their mums,” says Rene Co, head of communications at Procter & Gamble Greater China. “That is where P&G steps in to offer help and support to the mums while they’re here to cheer and rally for their kids.
Co speaks for all brands when he says: “We think the leverage is not just what happens at the site of the Games but what we do with it at other locations.” PyeongChang is 128 km east of Seoul, with Gangneung a further 60 km beyond that, but plenty of Games tourists will be passing through Seoul on their way there, creating more marketing opportunities. Black and white ‘long-padding coats’, inspired by official Olympic merchandise, have already become a big trend in the capital.
On February 1 Coca-Cola launched a ‘Giant Vending Machine’ in Hongdae, an arts and indie music region of Seoul, and is planning a programme of experiential events throughout the Games. McDonald’s launched three limited edition Olympic menu items—Golden Potato Burger, Golden Potato Tomato Muffin and Golden Potato Bacon Muffin—across the country last week, using “premium Korean beef” that comes from PyeongChang.
What’s new for the PyeongChang Games?
Given South Korea’s technologically advanced mindset, it seems appropriate that sponsoring brands are bringing their highest technology solutions to the Games.
Watch brand Omega, also a sponsor of the Games and becoming Official Timekeeper of the Olympics for the 28th time at PyeongChang, has developed special transponders that will allow athletes, whether alpine skiers or ice hockey teams, to measure their whole performance including speed and formation. The information will be fed back to athletes, but also disseminated for spectators, too. “We are able to share our message of reliability and precision with the world and this is valuable for the brand, as spectators can see in real time and on the world stage, how trustworthy our technology is,” says an Omega spokesperson.
“Digitising” across all marketing programmes is a key strand of Coca-Cola’s marketing strategy. The brand comes second in the soft drink popularity stakes in South Korea and is hoping to leverage the Olympics to boost it into pole position, says Coca Cola’s Olympic General Manager, Hun Sik Yoon. Coke is targeting 20- to 29-year-olds at the Games and CokePLAY, their mobile app, is a central communications platform for engagement with 2 million downloads so far in Korea. First established in the mid-2000s, the app was used this year to recruit Coca-Cola Olympic Torch Bearers and allow consumers to perform virtual Olympic Torch relays, as well as offering Olympic ticket promotions and brand giveaways.
P&G China is hoping to raise the profiles of some Chinese athletes at the Games with an eye to the long view, Beijing 2022. The brand is working with the Chinese Olympic Committee to create a more broad-based education programme around the winter Olympics, but has also roped in a series of celebrity ambassadors to support the athletes at PyeongChang. One innovation is their link-up with Onmyoji (The YinYang Master), an anime character that's popular with young Chinese people. The character will also be ‘cheering’ for athletes at the games and hoping to attract younger audiences with the associated anime game. “The challenge for us is how can we attract younger people to our brands. That is why we are experimenting with games, with idols and all that stuff. Our objective as a company, regardless of the Olympics, is how to sustain a steady stream of new users coming into our franchise,” says Rene Co.
PyeongChang is just 50 miles from the North Korean border, and shaky relations between the two countries have dominated headlines around the Games for months. Brands are taking the party line, professing absolute confidence in the Games organisers to handle security. But other concerns exist.
For Omega, with the precious data it is collecting on athletes, information safety is a chief priority.
“In regards to security, we use a closed system for our timekeeping and we are extremely vigilant, as it's vital that we maintain the integrity of our timekeeping equipment,” says an spokesperson for the brand.
Views on the location of the Games differ: Hun Sik Yoon of Coca Cola says “There is a big concern about Games venue, it is far away from Seoul in a different area in Korea. We have found our consumers and our targets are not much available to go to visit the venue cities. So we are executing some showcasing of Coca-Cola in Seoul.” Rene Co of P&G China sees the bigger picture, saying, “The fact the Games are closer to us, at least for us in China, means our ability to get more people involved and arrange for more opinion leaders to be there physically, will be easier. This, Tokyo, Beijing: the fact it is all happening close to home, on Asian lands, provides a lot of opportunity to make the programmes resonate even more with local consumers.”
The one challenge no one can escape is the weather in PyeongChang. These Games are predicted to be the coldest since the 1994 Games in Lillehammer, Norway: at a recent rehearsal for the Opening Ceremony, temperatures were -14ºC, which sent half the audience fleeing the stadium. This increases logistical challenges, says Hun Sik Yoon, because the brand has to make sure all its staff and crews outside are always safe. Other brands say they are avoiding pop-up shops or social gatherings because of the cold.
“Recording Olympic Dreams” is Omega’s TV and print campaign. “The athletes work incredibly hard to compete at that level and make many personal sacrifices, so the split second differences revealed by our precise timekeeping can be the difference between heartache and glory. The footage and images we have chosen capture genuine emotions, so it's a very stirring campaign,” says a spokesperson.
Coke’s ‘Together as one’ Olympic campaign started in early 2017. The brand used to develop a new campaign for every different major event including the Fifa World Cup, explains Hun Sik Yoon, but has now switched to a strategy whereby it modifies campaigns but will maintain the gist of the design.
The brand chose figure skater Yuna Kim and actor Bogum Park to star in a TV commercial to raise consumer awareness and interest ahead of the Games, and also released a Coca-Cola Olympic Anthem in collaboration with Mamamu, a leading girl group in Korea.
P&G doesn’t typically promote itself, instead focusing on the stories of its brands, but for the Olympics it tells its own story—one that celebrates mothers with a global 'Thank You Mum' campaign. “We came upon the idea that P&G has always been in the business for many years of helping mums take care of their families,” says Rene Co. "We found the big link we can have with the Olympics is the idea that behind every amazing athlete is an even more amazing mum.”
This campaign has evolved, with a change of angle every year. This year’s theme is “Love Over Bias”. “The IOC survey about athletes revealed that over half of Olympians experience bias growing up and the mum was the one person credited with helping them overcome that bias,” says Co.
Co also reveals his initial concern that the global ‘Thank You Mum’ campaign would no be relevant for Chinese consumers. “We know in the Western world we have terms like ‘soccer mums’ and mums are directly involved in the development of the athletes, driving them around to coaching sessions and stuff. So initially I had concerns because in China, a lot of athletes start training at five or six when they are pulled away from their homes and sent to athletic schools for training. So we were trying to find what is the link of the mums in the development of a champion.”
After some intensive research and one-on-one interviews, he continues, he found that mothers still play a hugely supportive role for young athletes in China, even if from a distance. This might mean protecting them psychologically, from an illness in the family, say, so as not to disrupt their focus—or even avoiding watching them compete live so they are not distracted.
“In London I chaperoned the parents of Wu Minxia, who is the diving queen," Co says. "It was her final competition but they chose a seat high up in the benches. When she was declared queen they were just overjoyed. I said ‘we can go down to her’ but they said ‘no no, let her settle down. We’ll find time later.’ It’s a different kind of support but still the role of mums, dads, cheering their children on manifests itself, just in different way.”