By Trevor Little
July 26 2012
The last few weeks have seen Olympic sponsors come under media attack for, among other things, restricting the sale of chips, selling alleged ‘sweatshop-manufactured’ products and sidelining the great British beer. But what impact does negative coverage have among consumers? Two media monitoring services suggest the pros of sponsorship clearly outweigh the cons.
WTR has previously reported in some detail on the advertising rules in place around the Olympic and Paralympic Games, designed to ensure that the sponsors who contribute financially to the staging of the two sporting spectacles are provided with unique promotional opportunities in return. Last week we examined how non-sponsors are getting creative in a bid to benefit from the Olympics buzz. For sponsors there are obvious benefits to being associated with the Olympic Games – both in terms of commercial opportunities during the event, as well as general brand benefits. However, with this high profile comes close scrutiny and negative coverage.
Over the past few weeks, the advertising restriction put in place for the 2012 Olympics have certainly come under increased scrutiny - both in the UK and beyond. In addition to protests against the rules themselves, perhaps the highest-profile example was the coverage afforded to McDonalds’ exclusivity to sell chips (fries). After it emerged that McDonalds’ sponsorship enabled them to restrict the sale of chips within the Olympic Park (unless specifically sold with fish), the story quickly went viral, hitting the nationals and online news outlets.
Meanwhile, mixed messages are being sent by various stakeholders, politicians and the London Organising Committee for the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) itself on the enforcement of its advertising and marketing restrictions. While LOCOG chairman Lord Coe told reporters that spectators probably wouldn't be allowed into games venues in a Pepsi T-shirt “because Coca-Cola are our sponsors”, London Mayor Boris Johnson took a more populist stance, telling Sky News: "If you want to stick five doughnuts in your window and call them Olympic rings then be my guest. Or if bakers want to make a gigantic Olympic pretzel in the high streets of London to advertise their wares then let them do so… Certainly no brand army is going have the support of the administration in London - and we won't be making any efforts to enforce it ourselves."
LOCOG later contradicted Coe by stressing that “any individual coming into our venues can wear any item of clothing, branded or otherwise", and noting that the regulations are geared more towards large groups wearing clearly visible branding for ambush marketing purposes.
It has all made for a powerful media cocktail, with a former marketing director at the International Olympic Committee suggesting that sponsors themselves may ask that the rules not be so aggressively applied, to reduce negative coverage surrounding the enforcement of the Olympic and sponsors’ brands.
For those sponsoring companies faced with increased scrutiny, heartening reassurance comes from two measures of brand perception, which show that negative discussion of sponsors is neither impacting on the effectiveness of advertising campaigns nor having a profound effect on consumer sentiment, demonstrating the value of Olympic sponsorship.
Ace Metrix, a new analytics measure for television and video advertisers, is scoring every single nationally airing US Olympic ad leading up to and throughout the Games. As of last week, it had assessed 60 Olympic-themed adverts, including “sponsors’ ads depicting stories of hope and triumph, sponsors’ product ads with an Olympic-branded close, and those non-sponsored ads featuring Olympic athletes”. Through this analysis the company concludes that being a sponsor matters. Olympic sponsor ads are more effective than those advertisers who feature Olympic athletes in their marketing but are not actually sponsors, with P&G and Coca-Cola occupying half of the top 10 spots and Visa also on the ‘most effective’ list.
Meanwhile, a live tracker of social media and online mentions that each sponsor is receiving is currently being offered by Brandwatch. As well as the number of mentions, the system also tracks the sentiment of mentions – whether negative, positive or neutral. As of this morning McDonalds led the field in terms of overall mentions, with 9% of the comments monitored being negative in nature. While a significant percentage, few sponsors received wholly negative or positive sentiment (Panasonic and Cisco being two of the few to hold such an accolade). In general negative mentions hover between the 2-6% level for most sponsors.
Speaking to Reuters, Marc Pritchard, global brand building officer at Procter & Gamble (which issued a profit warning last month), stated that the company’s 2012 Olympic sponsorship is expected to generate $500 million in additional sales. It is clear that negative media coverage is not having a disastrous effect for sponsors, in terms of either brand exposure or sales.
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