For $100 million, you’d think they could afford a few back-up plans. But I suppose hindsight is 20/20. As we close out the first week of the Olympic games, I want to share some of the highlights of drama coming from London. Undoubtedly, most of the drama stems from money and marketing. From the empty seats and ticketing fiasco, to the #NBCFail twitter trend, to the VISA “cashless Olympics” system crash, and even the beat-it-to-death topic of McDonalds and Coke being unhealthy, a lot of commotion is circling. It seems that a lot of these problems are being escalated to almost humorous heights simply by access to modern technology. Possibly one of the biggest debates going on is between the athletes and the International Olympic Committee regarding sponsorship restrictions. I was surprised when I discovered the lengths that the sponsors go to to ensure that their brands are the ONLY brands seen, and yet they aren’t prepared for tech glitches or public controversy.
The first few days of Olympic games (including high-profile events like swimming and soccer) were eagerly watched around the world on television and mobile screens, and yet some people were unable to get the otherwise unused seats in the stadium. You’d think it’d be packed to the brim with excited and cheering spectators, but there were huge sections of the crowd that were completely empty. Why is this? According to sources at Forbes.com, “approximately 13 million of 114 million tickets are typically set aside for sponsors and other organizations. On average, 30% to 70% of those set aside go unused.” Meaning that the major sponsors and organizers not only didn’t use their coveted tickets, but also neglected or refused to distribute or resell their tickets to the public who so desperately wanted to attend.
FIX: Better Planning
It’s easy to point fingers at those who supposedly had those seats, but apparently this has always been a problem. According to six-time gold medalist and FOXSports.com analyst Amy Van Dyken, for some reason, critics are picking out issues this Olympic year that have been around forever. She says, “Of course it’s the sponsors’ clients not showing up, but this always happens.” This problem may be coming into light because it is the first Olympics being influenced heavily by social media, and people have the ability to share images of the empty seats and stir up problems. So how could the sponsors prevent this, and also turn it into positive marketing? Maybe part of their campaigns could be contests or social media interaction that award tickets to the public, encouraging brand interaction and building loyalty. Maybe they could team up with online ticket resellers for a better back up plan, as suggested in the Forbes article. In any case, more thought should go into this issue for the next Olympic Games.
Media giant NBC has bought the sole rights to air the Olympics in the United States, and while they have a record number of viewers for the record $2.2 billion spent, they are getting more publicity on twitter. A great collection of tweets is found on Storify.com, summarizing eight ways that NBC blew the Olympic coverage. They include tape-delaying the coverage, cutting content for commercials, failing at geography, stupid commentary, requiring a cable subscription to view online, cutting a tribute to terrorist victims for Ryan Seacrest, being condescending to critics, and requesting that twitter “discipline” a vocal critic. One of the bigger instances when NBC embarrassed themselves was with a commentator’s reaction to Sir Tim Berners-Lee who is accredited with inventing the World Wide Web; commentators suggested that viewers google who he was, because they didn’t know either. In addition, NBC has spoiled the results of games before they air them on their very own network.
Is the negative impact on your own reputation worth the money that advertisers are paying to use your network? I understand the rationale about a time-delay (more viewers in primetime=more money), but the Olympics should NOT be about making money – advertising is NOT an Olympic sport! It’s about a global unity, about coming together despite our differences for a short amount of time to acknowledge greatness across all races and nationalities. By not giving live coverage, NBC takes away that feeling of community and puts America in exile for 5-8 hours. Not to mention throwing in commercials every ten minutes when the rest of the world is commercial-free.
FIX: Listen to your audience and educate your commentators
As the damage has already been done, hopefully NBC learns from it. Learn how to pronounce the names of countries, make sure you fix any blunders before airing, know that your audience will only tolerate a certain degree of commercialism, and realize that the American public is not stupid and can handle “complex entertainment spectacles” as you so call them, without filler commentary and edited footage.
FAIL: VISA credit system crash at Wembley
This was bound to happen, right? Large amounts of people all using the same payment system at the same time = system overload. Well, with VISA being an official sponsor of the Olympics, they have the rights to all the transactions. Wanting to make this the first “cashless” Olympics, they took out the 27 ATMs from the park and replaced them with only eight Visa-only machines. So when the system crashed during the Wembley games, it was cash payment only – with limited access to cash. Needless to say, this made for some very angry, hungry fans.
FIX: Calm your ego and make a plan B
Preventive measure #1: Take out 27, put in 27.
Preventive measure #2: Have multiple backup systems in place and a team of specialists on hand to handle a crisis in a timely manner.
Understand that, as much as you want everyone to use VISA, some people just prefer cash. You’re not going to have a “cashless” anything for a long, long while. That’s just the way it is.
FAIL: Major Sponsors McDonalds and Coca-Cola aren’t healthy!
Ummm…duh? This isn’t so much a problem with the sponsors themselves, but rather the fact that these companies make unhealthy products and shouldn’t be allowed to sponsor an event that promotes healthy eating and lifestyles. London’s mayor Boris Johnson made a show of defending McDonalds, saying “This is all just bourgeois snobbery about McDonald’s… It’s classic liberal hysteria about very nutritious, delicious, food — extremely good for you I’m told — not that I eat a lot of it myself… Apparently this stuff is absolutely bursting with nutrients.” This just fueled the fire. Unfortunately, both McDonalds and Coca-cola have a long history of being deemed unhealthy and full of fat or sugar. They also have a long history of supporting the Olympics, and so a delicate balance must be reached.
FIX: Healthy lifestyle campaigns already in the works
McDonalds has chosen to focus on their “favorites under 400 calories” menu items during the Olympics, claiming that 80% of its menu choices in the U.S. are under the 400-calorie limit. However, people aren’t taking notice the way the Olympic sponsor anticipated. Perhaps they could use a new awareness tactic? Maybe some Advertising 2.0? Coca-Cola has chosen a “Move to the Beat” campaign that combines Olympic sport with London-based music. By taking an experiential approach to the brand, people connect more with the lifestyle than the sugary soft drink the company is known for. Coca-Cola is also pushing its water and juice beverages rather than sodas during the games.
FAIL: The Power of Sponsorship
This is Power at its finest. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the official sponsors have such rules and regulations that a small coffee shop on a street in London can’t even have bagels in the window that come close to resembling the Olympic logo. There are multiple reports of tightened restrictions for businesses in London, and there are actually Olympic legal teams working to stop other brands from ambush marketing. This is understandable I suppose, because the official sponsors have each paid an average of $100 million to be the only sponsors in their respective categories. With that hefty amount of money, they get all competitor brands completely blacked out of Olympic Park – literally. From covering up road signs and replacing ATMs, to McDonalds having the exclusive right to sell french fries, I’d say that’s pretty extreme. They are basically rebranding the entire town with those select few who’ve paid for it. Unfortunately, this extremism has extended into social media as well. The Olympic Athletes are bound by “Rule 40,” which states that athletes are not allowed to appear in any advertising for any brand outside of the official sponsors, including any mention of such on social media. This means that the individual athletes’ personal sponsors are not allowed any publicity linked to the Olympics.
FIX: Take a step back
Everyone take a breath. Count to ten. I know you want to control the world, but you simply can’t and will not be allowed to. And although not every country has the same laws, I think certain freedoms should be universal. This includes freedom of speech – which the IOC and sponsors are trying to stifle for Olympic athletes. I can understand not allowing them to promote other brands during their events when there is huge media coverage, because that’s what the sponsors paid for. But, those official sponsors are not paying every individual athlete (that I’m aware of) to support their brands only, and thus should not expect them to keep quiet about the brands that are. Let’s say that I’m an athlete, and my hometown bakery “Mom’s Muffins” has being paying for my training and travel for years. If I want to go on Facebook or Twitter and say “Thanks for the support, Mom’s Muffins!” then I should be able to do that without worrying about being kicked out of my competition. There needs to be a compromise, and a set limit to what these official Olympic sponsors can and can’t do.