The Olympic Games
Several clients of Performance Research had committed significant resources to buy the rights as official sponsors of both the 1994 Winter and 1996 Summer Olympics. As the Lillehammer Games approached, a consortium of sponsors jointly engaged in a research study to determine the value of the Olympic association to brand marketing, the appeal of Olympic advertising, the lift in top-of-mind brand awareness, and general brand loyalty toward Olympic sponsors.
Telephone interviews of Olympic broadcast viewers for the Lillehammer Games were implemented two weeks prior to the Opening Ceremonies and again immediately following the Closing Ceremonies.
As expected, the typical clutter of Olympic advertising, promotions and contests produced a high level of confusion among consumers. While some TOP and USOC sponsors fared well, others generated little to no visibility. Of highest concern, however, was the level to which ambush sponsors (in particular Wendy’s and American Express) out paced official sponsors McDonald’s and Visa in terms of both sponsor recall and belief that these non-Olympic companies were doing more than many official sponsors to support the Olympic movement.
Research findings from Lillehammer resulted in a collaborative effort among sponsors, ACOG and the broadcast network to protect sponsors from parasite marketers during the Atlanta games. Fearing a repeat of what occurred in Lillehammer, both McDonald’s and Coca-Cola purchased 100% of the inventory of broadcast advertising for their respective category. Most importantly, nearly all sponsors involved in the study implemented additional qualitative research to help develop integrated marketing programs that would be more relevant to their target market, touch upon emotional drivers, and help raise sponsor recognition above the commercial clutter.
The same group of Olympic sponsors repeated consumer research for the Summer Games. Rather than relying on a simple pre/post format, research was started one year before the Opening Ceremonies, and continued for six more waves, including on-site and television viewer research each day of the Games. Data from both on-site and television audiences was processed daily so that clients could alter or refine promotional activities and be immediately aware of any consumer perception of competitor attempts at ambushing.
Despite criticism of commercial overload, the Atlanta Olympics resulted in an extremely low level of blatant ambush marketing. More importantly, the Games resulted in record levels of both sponsor awareness and consumer appreciation for those fully leveraging their Olympic association.