Richard Reid
Aug 5, 2016

Can we really know which Olympic sponsor wins gold?

Iris Sport’s Richard Reid wonders if a clear brand winner can be declared at the Olympics, given lack of visibility in the race and stakes.

Richard Reid
Richard Reid

The Rio Olympic Games are about to kick off, and competitors will be going through their final preparations. However, not all eyes will be focused on the track, as competition will be just as fierce between the sponsors battling it out to make the biggest impact.

As with all global sporting events, each iteration seems to break all previous records for the number and variety of sponsors who will be involved, and Rio is no different, with over 50 brands partnering the event in some way.

These brands will each have a unique approach, dependent upon the rights and assets they hold, the industry and geography in which they operate, and crucially, their business and marketing objectives. With such diverse marketing approaches, can we know which sponsor has been most successful?

The diversity of these approaches can be illustrated by the objectives of just three top tier partners, Samsung, Atos, and Dow. Samsung is championing “those who defy barriers”, telling the stories of athletes who have overcome incredible challenges to compete at the games.

Atos and Dow are providing significant value-in-kind services, and so the Olympics is an opportunity to demonstrate their capabilities on the grandest stage; Atos will be using IT to “turn the Games into a fully connected global experience”, whilst Dow are “implementing low-carbon technologies in key areas of the Brazilian economy”, minimising the Carbon Footprint of the Games.

Given such a range of objectives, the activation strategies of each sponsor will also vary significantly. Samsung, as a consumer-electronics brand, will make use of both ATL and BTL channels to promote its brand message, using experiential activations and competitions to drive participation.

Atos and Dow will activate very differently. They must ensure all value-in-kind services are seamlessly delivered, avoiding the failures seen by G4S at London 2012, but the Olympics also represent a huge opportunity to use exclusive hospitality to build relationships with clients and convert prospects.

Although the strategy and stated objectives vary, the vast majority of sponsors are seeking to increase revenue, increase brand engagement, or more likely, both.

As an interested observer, there are three significant and largely insurmountable challenges in evaluating the performance of such a range of sponsors, against even such a narrow definition of success.

The first challenge is that we cannot know the relative importance given by each sponsor to revenue and brand engagement. It could be argued that Samsung, as a consumer-centric brand, should seek a higher level of engagement than B2B brands like Atos and Dow, but to do so assumes that all brands must reach and engage a mass audience.

A single transaction with Atos or Dow is of many times greater than the purchase of a Galaxy S7, so it’s very possible that Atos’ smaller group of customers will be more engaged than Samsung’s.

The second is that we know only a fraction of the rights and assets available to all sponsors. Whilst all sponsors in the same tier will pay a similar price, they will not receive the same package. It is very likely that some will have more visible assets than others, giving the impression of cutting through the noise, gaining share of voice, and creating success, but this does not mean that those assets were successful or even appropriate for that sponsor.

The third problem is knowing the commercial outcome of the partnership. Whilst social analytics and surveys can be used to measure the impact on brand engagement, it is far harder to measure the commercial return for all partners.

There are several techniques which can be used, the most straightforward being consumer surveys, using test and control groups to isolate the uplift in reported or intended purchase, from which revenue figures can be modelled.

However, this approach cannot be used to accurately measure the return which Dow would see, the chances of finding Dow’s clients in a survey sample are very small indeed. An alternative approach would be to compare the performance of the sponsors’ share price against its competitors, but it is likely this data would be far too noisy to offer any real insight.

However, our inability to measure overall success doesn’t mean that there is no opportunity to learn from the sponsors. There are many areas which are measurable and comparable, including engagement and brand perception, these data points can be joined together to tell a story of performance; giving insight into which activations worked well and which were less successful, but they do not even come close to capturing the complete performance of any sponsorship.

So keep an eye on the activities of all the sponsors, evaluate and learn where possible, but treat with healthy cynicism any article proclaiming “Brand X wins Olympic gold”.

Richard Reid is a consultant and commercial analyst at Iris Sport

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