Which Brands are Winning the Medals?

I am very scared of using the ‘O’ word in case I’m infringing some IOC regulations and will provoke litigation from their venal lawyers, but you know what I’m referring to. At the time of writing we are nearing the end of the first week of London 2012 and I don’t think it’s too early to start asking which brands will carry off the medals. How, as a brand, do you win a medal you might ask? Well I am setting the rules and they are very simple – you get a Gold, Silver or Bronze if your brand emerges much stronger, stronger, or a bit stronger as a result of the London 2012 Olympic Games (there – I’ve said it, do your worst). You get a lemon if, by my judgement, you should have saved your time and money and steered well clear.

Let’s start with the obvious – the sponsors. There are three levels in case you didn’t know. You can be a Worldwide Partner, a London Partner or a London Supporter. If I asked you to name more than two in any category you’d struggle. In fact there are 11, 7 and 7 respectively so there are a few lemons to be awarded.

I’m going to give both Adidas and Omega Gold – this is the greatest show on earth, it’s all about time and sporting kit so however well or badly you might have activated it, however much it cost, well done. Rolex does Wimbledon, Omega does the Olympics, Nike do, well, just about everything else, Adidas does the Olympics. Perfect.

I’ll give Coca Cola a Silver – it is arguably the best brand in the world, it has supported unarguably the best event in the world for years now and they always seem to do it with class.

Bronze for P&G – some nice ads, I suspect some good awareness and saliency scores (you can bet the boys from Cincinnati will analyze the numbers more closely than any games official for any event) and I reckon they will have added some warmth to a corporate brand that has lacked it. Bit like the British gymnasts – unexpected but a nice result.

Lemons for just about everyone else, but especially McDonalds and Cadbury. What were you thinking when you signed the contract? About as smart as an Arms dealer sponsoring Amnesty International. Do you need the awareness – No. Does it in any way relate to your brand values – No. But what about Coca Cola, couldn’t you say the same thing about them? It’s not fair! No, it’s not fair but that’s the way it is. Coke can get away with it, they have heritage, they do it with class and actually yes I can imagine many of the athletes, from China even, enjoying ice cold Coke pre and post an event. It’s an authenticity and status thing.

Now let’s move beyond the obvious brands – there are many other reputations to be enhanced or undermined by the London Olympics. What about the personalities?

I award Gold to Boris Johnson and David Beckham – I think both will emerge much stronger brands as a result of these Games. Boris is really starting to look like a future PM and dare I say it, World Statesman. Like all great brands he has added something new to the mix in his category, politics – humour, honesty, the ability to make the odd mistake, own up to it and be liked all the more for it. In David Beckham we are witnessing the transition from Football Icon to Sport Icon, almost a national treasure.

Silver for Stella McCartney and Danny Boyle –they’ve been brave, they too have added a whole new dimension to their reputations, well done.

Seb Coe – Bronze. Why? I just think we admire him a bit more but we don’t like him any better. I confess this is very subjective – I always preferred Lennon to McCartney and I always liked Ovett more than Coe. Mind you, if Boris, Seb, Cameron and Miliband went head to head for President of the UK the day the games finished, might that be the result, Boris first, Seb second…..?

Of course we don’t have a President, we have a monarch, indeed we have the monarchy. They don’t compete in anything or seek election to anything or sell anything (except Britain Plc) so I can’t award a medal. Pity because it would have been gold. (And I’m a Republican).

I’d like to award a Lemon or three to some nations but am far too scared to name names or explain why. There are many reasons why the Olympics are the greatest show on earth but central among them is the coming together of nations in the universal appeal of sport and sporting values. Nations competing in the Olympics can reinforce their brand perceptions, they can worsen them. If I was the marketing director of a country – and I think every country should have a marketing director that is not called Head of Tourism of Chief Spin Doctor – I’d see the Olympics as an amazing opportunity to promote the brand. I think some national brands will emerge weaker after these games and it has got nothing to do with who won most medals, just the way they won them and the way they, officials and athletes handled themselves. But there is one Gold that should be awarded to a country/city brand.

My final Gold goes jointly to London and Great Britain – worth every penny it cost.

Going Native

The hottest topic in media (advertising, marketing – take your pick) is Native Advertising. It seems everyone is going native when it comes to their brand spend. This wild enthusiasm is only matched by the total confusion about what exactly is Native Advertising. There are a bunch of definitions flying round. The most all-purpose definition is probably something like “Brand promotion messages or content on the internet that fit so well into the context in which they appear you hardly know or care whether you are being sold to”. So this will span everything from Google Adwords (ads appear alongside natural search results in exactly the same format) to sponsored stories, videos, images, music on respectively facebook, youtube, pinterest or spotify and their ilk.

Native can include the internet version of an “advertorial” – an on-line publisher will include some story about a brand in their normal content flow, some bloggers will simply get paid to write stuff about a brand or company. These are supposed to be clearly indicated but many are not and many would claim that no-one cares. If it is a good read, it is a good read, and it’s not like you paid for it. The Red Bull case study gets trotted out over and over again. Red Bull promote its energy drink by associating itself with derring-do – whether Formula One Sponsorship, Extreme Sports or some bloke parachuting from a great height. The point about the latter is this specific, fully Red Bull funded, stunt found its way into a gazillion blogs and newsfeeds on the web. Good old fashioned PR? Well yes, but specifically designed and presented for the on-line publishing world.

What is behind all this? Simply a frustration with banner ads. I’ve mentioned before that advertisers have done the same thing in digital that they did when commercial TV came on the scene. They adapted what they knew for the new medium (in the case of TV they ran radio ads with pictures, in the case of on-line publishing they ran press ads) rather than learning new tricks or at the very least re-learning and reframing old tricks.

Advertisers’ willingness to pay for banner ads here, there and everywhere allowed any old crap blogger to make a bob or two out of their sites and gave major off-line publishers the false idea that they could recreate their business model on-line. But what is the one dominant feature of on-line? You can measure almost everything and pretty soon everyone has figured out that “You have more chance of surviving an air crash than clicking on a banner ad”. Native advertising works better, brands and agencies are prepared to pay more for better results, the trend has caught fire. There are new agencies who know how to do it, new platforms that know how to get it out there, new opportunities on every major social media site, all looking to cash in with numbers and metrics to back up their case.

The old guard will say – as they always do – that there is nothing new here. With the right connections, budgets and brand stories you could always lean on editors and journalists to big up you brand. The Gold Blend ads (I know I am going back a while here) worked because they were a brand relevant 30 second soap opera that got flighted in the ad break of, yes, a soap opera. How native is that? What is the difference between sponsored content and event or celebrity sponsorship?

As soon as attention and eyeballs move away from one activity to another, brands will eventually find a way to shoe-horn themselves into that new activity be it watching TV, surfing the net, keeping up with friends and trends or playing games. Yes fundamentally it is the same game but scale, data, algorithms, real-time metrics, fragmentation, pace of change and user empowerment make it a game with new rules and new potential to win or fail.

I try to keep pace with all this and am lucky enough to spend most of my time with people who know a lot more than me because they are out there building new marketing tech businesses. One person I keep up with on a regular basis here in Cape Town is Will Mellor. He is better known (and he is very well known) as Seth Rotheram, the alter ego he created for his blog site, 2Oceansvibe. Except when he started the term blogging had not been created and the software did not exist. He began posting pictures of the Camps Bay in-crowd with amusing little stories and gossip. He started to add cool lifestyle content he found on the internet. In those days he had to take the site down and then reload it every night because there was no WordPress. His popularity and unique visitors grew, he could start to get all manner of freebies and some cash to talk about brands, events, restaurants. No-one cares he is getting paid because 2OV is just such a great read and the first place to go to find the funniest and sauciest stuff on the net. He has also always featured brands and magazines for which he does not get paid simply because he thinks they give his brand the right vibe. He then launched an on-line radio station, relaunched the blog as an on-line magazine and is currently re-naming and rebranding all the neighbourhoods in Cape Town – the Hoods Project – and in the process creating a whole new geo-cultural cluster.

Will, aka Seth, has not just understood celebrity he created one, he was blogging before we knew what blogging was, he turned this into the new model for on-line publishing and is at the forefront of on-line media. And yes – he has been making money (funding his lifestyle) with native advertising long before the rest of us went native. He is the ultimate local/global and now micro-local. If he was in London or New York he’d be mega rich and famous. But as he says – work’s a sideline, live the lifestyle.

And the lifestyle is good in Cape Town, at least for the some of the natives.

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