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Brand Olympics: what's the value of sponsorship for Financial Services brands?

Posted by: Erin O'Keefe on February 23, 2010

Is Olympics sponsorship a meaningful driver for consumers when it comes to financial services? The RBC brand and Vancouver 2010 are so closely tied as to be almost indivisible. The bank sponsors the cross-country Olympic torch relay, exclusively provide ATMs at every game location around Vancouver, and VISA cards alone are accepted at key events (RBC is the largest VISA partner in Canada). RBC has been a supporter of the games since 1947, which is pretty impressive and speaks volumes about the company’s commitment rather than opportunistic sponsorship of the games in our home country.

However, it's interesting that other banks aren’t really making an effort to do anything to compete.
In other categories, brands that are not official sponsors are fighting for voice. Case in point: Pepsi’s attempt to create an Olympics song to compete with the ever-present Coca-cola experience. Pepsi offers exclusive beverages at all event venues and street displays. I haven’t personally heard anyone sing the Pepsi Olympics song (probably because people are belting out renditions of Oh Canada on every street corner, for no reason other than to be patriotic). Still, Pepsi deserves credit for attempting a rather bold, cheeky move to take over some of the attention of beverage consumers on the streets and at the events themselves.

Back to my point about non-sponsors: The other major Canadian Financial Institutions, TD Financial, Scotiabank, BMO and CIBC haven’t done a thing to suggest they’re supportive of the games or our athletes. Did they simply decide that competitive messaging wouldn’t be worth the investment? Importantly, how will RBC’s presence at the Games pay off? Of course it’s lucrative in the short-term, but do customers switch financial institutions because of their interactions with an FI brand during the Olympics or other major sporting events, or does it just make existing customers proud of their banking decisions? Or, does alignment with sport convince us of something deeper–that there are certain values the bank holds that should transfer to our belief in the bank as customers? 

I would warrant that RBC is also benefiting from the halo effect of association with VISA. Their visual systems are compatible, and the spirit of sport has long been part of both brands. VISA’s ‘go world’ campaign is extremely inspiring. One ad profiles a Canadian cross-country skier, Sarah Renner, who lost one of her poles at the Turin Olympics in the middle of her race. A Norwegian coach was on the sidelines and handed her a pole. She went on to win the silver, and the Canadian coach sent maple syrup as thanks – 5 tonnes of it. Incidentally, the Norwegian athlete placed fourth. 

Perhaps it’s that spirit of doing what’s right for others, regardless of personal benefit, that engenders a connection for us with these brands.

We want to believe that our banking institutions and financial services companies are doing what’s right for us – now more than ever – and if they can convince us to trust them again after the last few years, that loyalty could translate into a meaningful increase in brand value.

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