On day one of the London 2012 Olympics, I spent a family day in the Olympic Park, watching a basketball match and generally soaking up the atmosphere. The atmosphere was amazing, the park stunning and the sport entertaining, if predictable (China won). But what fascinated me was the branding.
Visual branding – London 2012 wins gold
On the tube that morning, almost half of our fellow passengers were Olympic volunteers in their distinctive Adidas and London 2012 branded uniforms. This set the tone for the day’s spectacles – London 2012 and its distinctive colourways were the most visually prominent brand. Looking more closely, the lanyards worn by all staff, volunteers and accredited visitors featured the Atos logo – giving the company a low-key but ubiquitous presence at the games.
Contrary to speculation, there was no policing of spectators’ clothing and accessories – security didn’t bat an eyelid at Nike trainers, rucksacks or caps. But London 2012 and team GB eclipsed all other sports brands – around a fifth of those entering the park were already sporting at least one commemorative item. By the time they left, a good half of all spectators had new Olympic merchandise (apparentlyTshirts, keyrings and pin badges were the best sellers, though BMW humourously offered a Mini for sale in the London 2012 Megastore).
Approaching the main park gate at Stratford, the Olympic stadium was dwarfed by Gillette ads down the side of three neighbouring tower blocks, featuring British cycling star Chris Hoy. It’s interesting that official games partner P&G chose this spot to showcase a product brand, rather than its corporate ‘Proud sponsor of mums’ campaign (though the parent brand also has a salon in the Athletes’ Village).
Inside the park, the lack of visual branding was striking (with the notable exception of McDonald’s huge golden arches and Coca-Cola’s ubiquitous drinks stalls, table umbrellas and branded bins). Seeing generic, unbranded coffee and food stalls and no sponsor branding inside Olympic venues was rather alien to those of us used to London’s visual riot. And it was rather comical to see that the manufacturer’s logo on hand dryers in the toilets had been covered with plain white stickers – one branding ‘urban myth’ that turned out to be true after all.
Interactive experiences – a mixed bag
Instead, most official sponsors practised what Interbrand preaches – they delivered interactive brand experiences. Eight Olympic partners (Acer, Coca-Cola, The BMW Group, BP, EDF, Panasonic, Samsung and the National Lottery) have pavilions in the park, offering various types of interactive experiences, from Coca-Cola’s Beatbox musical sculpture that can be ‘played’ by visitors to Acer’s multimedia and gaming zone.
From a consumer’s point of view, these pavilions had various degrees of success. For a start, nobody could get around all this in one day – and many just opted to enjoy the rare British sunshine and watch as much sport as possible. Secondly, several pavilions didn’t appear to welcome the public – resembling VIP hospitality areas rather than inviting interaction. And there were a few frustrations – EDF’s The Magic of Electricity missed a trick by requiring explanations from staff (visitors had to download an app to photograph themselves alongside Olympic athletes before entering the main pavilion – the sight of visitors frowning at their progress bars was enough to put others off even trying).
As we were there on a family day out, we made normal family choices. The Coca-Cola interactive Beatbox sculpture, building on the brand’s ‘Move to the beat’ campaign, looks brilliant but we missed it. The BMW and Acer pavilions sounded too focused on their own company history, despite having interactive elements. And BP’s focus on clean energy seemed to fall a little flat – despite mailing carbon offset QR codes with all Olympic tickets, only around 400,000 journeys had been offset online by day 10 of the games.
The best of these brand experiences were perhaps the simplest, requiring no explanations, queues or specific apps and focusing on the consumer rather than the parent company. For example, the BP pavilion worked even for those who didn’t enter it, as its huge mirrored side served as an interesting (and branded) backdrop for snapshots and larking about.
In a similar way, BA’s ‘Park Live’ – grassy areas featuring a huge screen broadcasting live action from Olympic venues – blended well with the mood and occasion, tapping in to people’s interest in sport without any mention of air travel. The airline was also canny in giving away free union jack seating mats and temporary tattoos to families and young children. Panasonic’s experience also suited the occasion and the dominant family demographic in the park, by teaching kids how to perform various sports as well as supporting the Park Live screens.
Clearly McDonald’s pitched its experience at families too. This will be the subject of a separate post, but it is worth noting that aswell as offering familiar food (we all know how fussy children can be aboutunfamiliar dishes), its huge restaurant offered the best value views across the park. The brand’s wider interactive Olympic experience, under the tagline ‘We all make the game’, involves using spectators’ own pictures in its lcd screen poster campaign around London transport hubs – effectively tapping into the inclusive, party atmosphere around the city.
It’s interesting that other family-oriented Olympic partners BT and Cadbury opted to focus their interactive brand experiences outside the main Olympic Park, at ‘London Live’ sites. Tens of thousands have been gathering to watch Olympic broadcasts and join in sports-based fun at thesefestival areas, for free. These have been the surprise hit of the games, winning over cynical Londoners as well as visitors.
Several Olympic partners – BMW, Coca-Cola and Visa – made a big effort to leave a lasting impression with Olympic spectators, via huge advertising on the wayfrom the park to key transport hubs. Certainly, there was little else to grasp consumers’ attention as they slowly filed on to tubes and buses. Coca-Cola’s artwork was suitably celebratory, but ‘Flow faster with Visa’ is perhaps a double-edged message for spectators in slow-moving, carefully controlled crowds. The ‘proud to accept only Visa’ Olympic notices have become a bit of a joke, which backfires when card payment machines break down and customers used to swift, secure and easy payments are forced to rely on old technology – cash.
The main business story around the London Olympics has been the detrimental effect of the games on non-sponsors in the city. Certainly, on this Saturday afternoon the huge Westfield shopping mall next to the Olympic park was unusually quiet. The Nike store between the main park exit and the tube station was almost empty – surely the brand missed a trick there. Perhaps predictably, the only buzzing shop in the mall was the London 2012 gift shop.
Lorna Fray is a writer and editor for Interbrand.