The Branding of the Olympic Games


With the current feverous bidding process that surrounds the selection of each new host of the next Olympic Games, it is difficult to remember that there was a time, not long ago, that few if any of the world’s cities desired to be selected as host of the 3000 year old, international sports spectacle. The 1976 Montreal Games overran their budget so drastically that the debts weren’t paid off until 2006, some 40 years after the Games closing ceremony. The cost and debt to a city sponsor had become such a drain on public coffers and was so expensive that nobody wanted to be the sponsor of the 1984 Olympic Games. With the exception of the initial Games in 1896, no Olympics had been underwritten entirely by private money. And other than the 1932 Games in Los Angeles and 1948 Games in London, no Olympics had ever reported a profit. Peter Ueberroth, who had been appointed to head the 1984 Los Angeles (L.A.) Olympic committee, explained that the 1984 Games would be the first “free-enterprise, private-sector Olympics, with no taxpayer money.”

The reason the L.A. Games would become a model for future Olympics was Ueberroth’s shrewd grasp of how marketing was evolving. The businesses that were bought in as sponsors for the 1984 Games realized that what they were buying was intangible, and that the new normal would be as much about brand recognition as units sold. Now, with the Sochi Winter Olympics now in full swing, it is appropriate to reflect on how far the marketing and branding of the Olympic Games has evolved since those watershed decisions in 1984.

The 2012 Summer Olympics in London brought in more than 219.4 million television (TV) viewers, making it the most watched event in TV history, surpassing the 2008 Beijing games (215 million viewers). According to, London 2012 had a global reach of 3.6 billion people, the highest in Olympic Games history, drawing in viewers from 220 countries and territories around the world. In today’s digital and social media world the Sochi games is promising to be the bigger than ever. Today the Olympic brand and reach is one of the most recognizable and powerful brands anywhere in the world.

Some of the world’s foremost international companies are clamoring to become “Official Sponsors”, shelling out more than 2 billion dollars in sponsorship revenues to help fund the world’s biggest sporting event, even though their Olympic investment will not provide any form of exposure, because the Olympic Games forbid any form of advertising in the stadium or on the athletes. So the billions of television viewers watching the Games around the world, will not see any sponsor names around the track.  From just watching the Olympic broadcast, no one will necessarily know who the Olympic sponsors are, because Olympic sponsorship is not about awareness, it is about building affinity with the consumer. As companies strive to build their own brand identity, in what will soon be the world’s largest and most important market, the Olympics offers a unique platform for companies to develop and enhance their own brand identity, by ‘borrowing’ the values of the Olympic brand.

According to a study by Ace Metrix, a TV and video advertising analytics firm, the gold medal for corporate branding during the 2014 Olympics in Sochi goes to Procter & Gamble, which has run a wide range of adorable, heartstring-tugging ads aimed at moms. Procter & Gamble leads the Games in terms of overall ad effectiveness for both its corporate branding efforts, which earned Gold, and several of its brands, including Febreze, which earned Silver. United Airlines took the Bronze medal for a series of Olympian-packed Team USA ads. Other international corporate brands demonstrating favorable performances at this year’s winter Games include; Molson, the Canadian brewer who is grabbing notable attention with its Molson Canadian fridge and Dos Equis with its newest version the “Most Interesting Man in the World” campaign.

Michael R. Payne, author of “The Value and Equity of the Olympic Brand”, said. “The Olympics is where the world of sport and the yearning for peace meet.’ And the basis of the Olympic marketing programs is designed to capture this positioning, pulling at people’s nationalistic heart strings or international values while selling a product. No other brand has such power. For those sponsors who find the right way to truly capture the real power of the Olympic brand, integrating the unique Olympic brand values into their own corporate brand positioning, the rewards of their Olympic association will pay off for years to come.”

Low Tech Marketability in a High Tech World- The Rainbow Loom

Rainbow Loom

While the history of the rubber band traces its roots back thousands of years, the modern rubber bands invention has its origin in 1845, but it took almost 80 years before William Spencer first started mass producing rubber bands in Ohio, USA.  With all the advanced technological gadgetry of today’s modern world, one would think that a simple, nearly ancient, by modern marketing chronological standards, product like the low-tech rubber band would be going the way of the “once upon a time” scrap heap.  But not so, even today it is nearly impossible to imagine a world without rubber bands. The diverse industry is proving to be holding itself together and experiencing a resilient and rather elastic sales performance (all puns intended).

The retractable characteristics of the invention has literally thousands of uses across a variety of industries, from the lowly bands utilized in offices and homes around the world to more sophisticated industries like medical, automotive, aeronautics, propulsion and numerous toys, crafts and even sport. Joel Waul, of Florida, currently holds the record for the largest rubber band ball; it weighed a whopping 9400 pounds, exceeded 8 feet in height, and consisted of more than 700, 000 rubber bands! Clearly Joel had idle time on his hands.

The newest idle-time rage that is expanding and weaving new life into the common rubber band is the hottest frenzy to hit craft and toy stores in decades. Nine-year-old girls across the U.S. have apparently fallen head over heels for a centuries-old craft form, threading together colorful bracelets with the aid of a makeshift loom. Michaels Stores, the huge, private arts-and-crafts retailer, began stocking the $17 Rainbow Loom last fall and the kit is now selling ten times better than the chain’s next kid’s bestseller, says Philo Pappas, Michaels’ Executive Vice President of Category Management. Prior to this past year’s Christmas season, a million or so of the rubber-band hand looms have sold through various outlets, according to Cheong-Choon Ng, the product’s 45-year-old inventor, who until recently was a senior crash-test engineer for Nissan Motor Co. (NSANY), in Detroit.

Three years ago, Ng’s two daughters—Teresa, then 12, and Michelle, then 9—were sitting in the family den making bracelets from rubber bands. The process reminded Ng, who grew up in Malaysia, of making jump ropes from rubber bands as a child. Hoping to impress his kids with his bracelet-weaving skills, he grabbed a few tiny elastic bands and tried to mesh them into a pattern. They were too small for his fingers, however so the engineer went to his garage and cobbled together a primitive loom, an old wooden board lined with rows of pushpins. With that, he began looping rubber bands into bracelets. At first his daughters weren’t impressed. But once they saw him weaving intricate patterns in breakneck speed, they changed their mind. It was Teresa who saw the potential for transforming this into a business when other kids in their Novi, Michigan neighborhood began obsessively playing with the looms Dad was assembling. That was when Ng decided to take a leap of faith—staking the $10,000 he managed to save for his daughters’ college fund on building a marketable product.

He spent six months refining the design then he set about finding suppliers in Southern China, getting their first shipment in June 2011. By then, the rubber bands had already arrived. He remembers standing with his wife, staring fearfully at the giant crate in their garage: it weighed 2,000 pounds, as much as a small car. Sales were glacially slow at first. He went to trade shows and children’s camps to show off the plastic loom and often when Ng went to pitch store managers in person, he was asked to leave. But that changed after a single store in The Learning Express Toys chain picked up Ng’s invention in July 2012. The shop, in Alpharetta, Georgia, offered bracelet-making classes to show off what could be done with the inexpensive loom and soon kids started taking their kits to school, and good old network effects kicked in.

The Rainbow Loom is currently the biggest fad among elementary school kids. Reminiscent of the pot holder weaving sets of generations past. It is essentially, a plastic pegboard and a bag of multi-colored rubber bands, which allow allows kids to make colorful “friendship” bracelets and other kinds of jewelry, but the trajectory of the Rainbow Loom is one of those toy business success stories that capture entrepreneurial imagination. Like the slinky, it has gone from rags to riches. An enterprise underdog story! The toy has catapulted from its humble beginnings in a Michigan living room to a market sensation. In the beginning, Cheong Choon Ng made the first videos himself, turning to YouTube in order to show potential customers how to use the product. Now customers make instructional videos themselves.

Such stories of entrepreneurial success are not completely uncommon but in an era of high-tech, gee whiz gadgetry, to inspire such interest from today’s tech-drunk youth with such a simple old fashioned product is nothing less than amazing.  Whether the Rainbow Loom goes the way of the pet rock or finds a place in the toy hall of fame alongside the hula hoop and the slinky remains to be seen, but the Rainbow Loom is once again showing that existing, mundane technology and established tradition still have a market.

The Changing Face of Facebook

Changing Faces

Facebook, the social networking service launched in February 2004, by founder and creator Mark Zuckerberg and his college roommates and fellow Harvard University students Eduardo Saverin, Andrew McCollum, Dustin Moskovitz and Chris Hughes. The website’s membership was initially limited to Harvard students, but was expanded to other colleges in the Boston area, the Ivy League, and gradually most universities in Canada and the United States and by late 2006; membership was available to anyone over the age of 13 with a valid email address. Today Facebook is the default social network with more than one billion member users around the world.

Facebook has recently been valued at more than 100 billion dollars; a valuation based more on its potential advertising revenue than on actual profit performance, a value formula applied almost exclusively in the internet and social media universe.  But while the Facebook phenomena is a story of revolution in social interaction and marketing, it has grown into a prime example of how, in time all things, even revolutionary things, change.

Once the domain of younger, tech savvy, internet social surfers, todays Facebook is becoming not your father’s Facebook, but rather your grandfather’s Facebook. The biggest growth in users is among adults over the age of 55. Facebook has added 12.4 million new users from this age range, a massive 80.4 percent growth while at the same time more than 3 million teens have abandoning the original social site in favor of microblogging networks like Tumblr and messaging apps like Snapchat.  It seems that there is nothing cool about having parents and grandparents “liking” pictures of your friends.

Even with the demographic shift, a new report from BI Intelligence shows why Facebook remains a powerful platform for companies, brands, and products. Facebook’s surprisingly strong statistics in terms of gender breakdown, income levels, and age diversity makes it the obvious go-to marketing platform. Perhaps Facebook’s most compelling statistics:

– Population and Penetration: 67% of Internet users in the U.S. are on Facebook. In European markets, penetration is even higher (82% in the U.K.).

– Age: Facebook still skews young. In the U.S., 83% of 18 to 29-year-olds who use the Internet are on it.  The 45- to 54-year-old age bracket has seen 46% growth since year-end 2012.

– Income: Among U.S. Internet users, 73% have incomes above $75,000.

– Mobile: Facebook is the most popular social media app on smartphones and accounts for 66% of total social media sharing on iPhones.

– International: Eight-six percent of Facebook’s users are outside the U.S.

– Gender: Facebook skews slightly toward women. But it is more gender neutral than Pinterest and Google+.

– Education: Nearly 75% of U.S. Internet users who have had at least some education in college use Facebook, according to Pew Research.

Overall, in the light of the demographic shift, active social media users of all ages continue to utilize Facebook to connect with friends, share photos, link to social gaming and participate in contest and giveaways.  In the future social marketers will need to more clearly investigate and understand what demographic they are most likely to reach, not only on Facebook but on competing social media sites.  As competition changes the social media landscape, marketers will need to diversify their paths taken to connecting with consumers through social media channels.

Pinterest: The Value of the Visual Social Medium

Are You Pinterested?

When Brian Cohen walked by Pinterest founder Ben Silbermann at a New York University business plan competition in 2009, he abruptly said four words to the young entrepreneur: “You have 30 seconds.  Today he says, “I still feel pretty bad about it,” reflecting on his cliched investor behavior. No matter – within 15 seconds he had stopped Silbermann mid-pitch.  He didn’t care about the product anymore; he was backing the founder no matter what. According to Pinterest first investor, “This is what Facebook was supposed to be”.  But for some Pinterest was, and is still a mystery, a stand-in for, “Some buzzy new social media site that I keep hearing about but don’t have time to figure out.” Now that Pinterest has 20 million users and a weighty $3.8 billion valuation, Cohen’s instincts are looking pretty spot-on.

Pinterest, the social network that styles itself as a scrapbook, has seen its valuation soar by more than 50 percent in just eight months. Ben Silbermann, Pinterest co-founder and chief executive, said “We hope to be a service that everyone uses to inspire their future, whether that’s dinner tomorrow night, a vacation next summer, or a dream house someday”. The three-year-old company recently announced that it would start rolling out “promoted pin” adverts which appear in search results and category feeds. The site is already popular with some consumer brands as users often pin products they like and use it to compile wish lists of things they would like to buy.

With more than 70 million users, according to consumer insight firm Semiocast, Pinterest has become a valuable tool for many small businesses looking to drive sales or connect with potential clients. While Pinterest has a reputation as being heavy on female-friendly content, like women’s apparel or home decorating tips, experts say the platform has a lot to offer businesses of all kinds, from retailers to service providers. “Most small businesses are not doing a lot of ecommerce, but there’s still an SEO (or search engine optimization) value,” says Marketing Land and Search Engine Land editor Greg Sterling. By being active on the platform, Sterling says small businesses can improve their rankings on search engines like Google or Bing.

According to a Business Insider article Pinterest has emerged as a top platform for brands and e commerce sites to receive referral traffic back to their sites. It is the best social media platform for showcasing products and driving commerce, because of its focus on “things,” rather than relationships and messaging. Pinterest users are five times more likely to be women than men and also tend to be well-educated and have high income.”

Consumers engage with Pinterest for the quality of the pins relevant to their social agendas: redesigning their home, learning great recipes, or picking out a great vacation spot.  Engagement with Pinterest goes up as users are drawn into high quality and authentic experiences as described by their fellow “pinners.” If Pinterest trends towards becoming a digital catalog, it would lose its draw for users who are looking to mimic the authenticity of the events and designs they discover.  The move towards a digital catalog is a move away from being engaged on a social platform.

Even before the launch of official business boards on Pinterest, the social media team at Sony discovered how to use the platform to help launch new products. Because Pinterest users thrive on finding original images to repin, the Brand New Sony Products board quickly became a source of primary images geared toward gadget lovers. That board’s pins and repins drive measurable sales to Sony’s online store, while giving product managers a forum to interact with fans.

TOMS puts giving at the heart of its brand by donating shoes or sunglasses to people in need around the world. The company supported its holiday campaign with a pinboard that mixed photos of limited edition products with stories from TOMS employees and from recipients of donated goods. Over 24,000 followers participated in the promotion, positioning TOMS as a brand that lets you find collectible gifts that improve the lives of people you’ve never met.

Chobani hasn’t even been around for a decade, yet it already controls nearly a fifth of the American yogurt market. Taking on the establishment in a saturated market requires a deep knowledge of your target customer, which the company explores thoroughly on its Pinterest boards. Chobani’s social media team has gone on the record that they believe people prefer to “connect with people, not businesses.” By pinning interesting images and sparking compelling discussions, Chobani adds value for its followers. Watching those conversations unfold gives the company’s marketers vital insights that can shape future outreach efforts.

We can expect to see avid internet users everywhere shift more to the visual web, which is likely to result in an increased role for Pinterest in many product company’s digital marketing strategy.