David Blecken
Nov 4, 2016

Let them feel it: A Rio strategist’s view on effective Olympics sponsorship

Tokyo 2020: Sports fans don’t want to hear sponsors’ messages, but are open to experiencing what those brands are about.

Nissan's bungee jump in Rio (source: Momentum Worldwide)
Nissan's bungee jump in Rio (source: Momentum Worldwide)

In the final part of our Tokyo 2020 series looking back at brand activity at the Rio Olympics and forward to Tokyo 2020, we gain a perspective from the incumbent host country via Momentum Brazil’s sponsorship strategy director, Rodrigo Coelho. Campaign spoke to Coelho on his recent trip to Tokyo.

What is the most important thing that you learnt working with Nissan in Rio?

The first thing I would say is that the Olympic Games are far more than a sporting event. It’s a huge accelerator platform, especially for brands like Nissan, which is very small in Brazil—around ninth [in the automotive market]. They used the platform as an awareness accelerator and to launch a new positioning. The biggest activation we did was before the games. This was a big learning: the 17 days are not about brands. The warm-up is where brands can get recognition. The torch relay was a huge platform for Nissan because over 100 days and 30,000 kilometres, the car was right behind the torchbearer. 80 percent of content had the car in it.

People expect to see great sporting performance, but do they really care what brands do?

I think they do, because fans can be part of the Games through brands. By delivering experiences around the city, reward programmes and hospitality programmes, they can give people at least a bit of an official experience. I don’t think fans are waiting for brands to come, but when they do it well, people recognise it. Research that we did during the Games showed 86 percent of social media posts using the ‘Rio’ hashtag were not related to athletes but to experiences around town, with brands or without. People are looking for fun and entertainment and that’s where brands come in. Heineken built a house in one of the best spots in Rio and became one of the most wanted brands for parties; Nissan had a 40-metre bungee jump [around its ‘Dare to go beyond’ positioning].

It’s natural to assume people are looking for any chance to have a good time. But in the end, do they actually remember the brands?

Not all of them. There is no single thing that a brand can do that will make them remembered. They have to amplify experiences through frequent touch points. That’s why it’s important to start activation as soon as possible so a brand can connect with people often and be recognised to improve their experience. People won’t remember a brand for just one or two activations. When people share things or participate in anything, they are the protagonists, not the brand. That’s the new marketing challenge.

If it’s all about experiences, is there any point advertising on TV?

I think it’s still good to advertise, but it’s collateral. It’s not the main thing anymore. It’s a tool to gain scale and frequency, but not brand engagement. I really think experiences are the new way of branding. So when a person does a bungee jump, they live what the brand is trying to say. People don’t want to listen, they want to feel. So it’s not Nissan telling them that innovation excites; it’s more a case of actually exciting people.

Was there enough activity around the Paralympics?

Unfortunately not. But I don’t think there was enough TV coverage of it either. It was much better in London. It’s a huge platform because it has the strength of being more emotional and even more ‘human’. Brands have to be consistent in their messaging, but it’s very important to adapt from the Olympics to the Paralympics. What Channel 4 did in London was a really good example: the idea that the Olympics were just a warm-up for the Paralympics. I really believe brands could get more involved, but it’s very new territory. There’s plenty of space to be innovative and different to the conventional territories that the Olympics bring. For example, it’s common for brands to hire ambassadors, but no brand has had the courage to build a team of Paralympic athletes. That would be something quite new. I’m excited to see what will happen [around the Paralympics] in Tokyo.

What should brands avoid at either the Olympics or Paralympics?

I would advise not to tell the event’s story. Many brands on social media use results, congratulations, as the basis of their communications. But that’s not the brand’s story. These communications get in the middle of a lot of things and you don’t see the brand as improving anything because it has no point of view. I would really recommend brands to take risks, embrace their own point of view and not stay in the safe places. Safe is always unsuccessful. Also—they shouldn’t try to talk to everyone. Choose the right targets.

Do you see more opportunities opening up for non-sponsors?

I think so. There are still plenty of opportunities to bring innovation to this platform. In Rio, the two leading bank brands, Bradesco and Itau, had a very visible fight that actually improved people’s lives: Itau owns Barclay’s Bike in Brazil, while Bradesco is the sponsor of the bicycle lanes. In the end, the beneficiaries were the people, and this was an opportunity for non-sponsors to get their message across in a very creative way.

This story is also avaliable in Japanese on Campaign Japan: 五輪スポンサーシップのカギは、「体験」

Campaign Japan

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