Olympic WOM Lessons from the World’s Largest Event


Originally posted on WOMMA’s All Things WOMM blog.

The global spectacle of the Olympics just ended this weekend, and more than a sporting event it offered a marketing showcase of strategies from dozens of marketers all trying to accomplish the impossible and stand out in a crowded media environment. Whether they were official sponsors, or using some form of ambush marketing – nearly every trick in the book came out during the two weeks of the Games in desperate attempts to capture the spotlight.

Throughout the Games I decided to collect and critique all the marketing we were seeing through a Pinterest board. The often misunderstood platform gave me the ability to update my collection of images and videos showcasing Olympic marketing in real time throughout the Games. It also became a living blog post. Along the way, a few WOM-worthy lessons emerged from the marketers who did manage to stand out. Here are the top five lessons from Olympic marketing that may help you not only stand out at the world’s most crowded and largest sporting event … but also on a daily basis anywhere in the world.

Be the countertrend (Nike) – Every trend has a countertrend. It’s the ultimate way that the world hedges its bets and people rebel against the norm. At the Olympics, that norm is showing successful athletes and sharing the many ways that a brand supports them. The counter trend is to avoid talking about the Olympic athletes at all. This also, by the way, happens to be the only way to do an ambush marketing strategy, since you’re not allowed to talk about the athletes anyway. Nike’s brilliant “London” campaign featuring athletes from cities named London across the world was the perfect ambush marketing tactic to take the attention away from the Olympics and put it on real people.

Focus on timing (Vodafone) – The most popular method for visitors to London to head into the city is the ultra-convenient Heathrow Express train that takes 15 minutes to get to Central London. Anyone boarding that train during the Games would have been offered a brochure from Vodafone that contained information about international calling and a free SIM card with 60 minutes of calling pre-loaded on it. For the many travelers planning to purchase a short term SIM card while in London, not only did this offer make their lives easier, but it locked them into using a Vodafone account for their entire trip … proving sometimes a great WOM idea can lead to direct sales too.

Live your personality (Innocent Drinks) – Though many people outside the UK may not be familiar with Innocent Drinks, they are a beloved smoothie and fruit juice brand with tons of loyal evangelists. The brand itself is quirky, irreverent, and always real. For the Olympics, they were the “official smoothie” with many traveling smoothie carts covered in fake grass and offering one of the few healthy food options within Olympic venues. Beyond London, their Facebook page was a daily source of inspiring images, funny infographics, and share-worthy quotes. The end result was engagement with the product for those in London, and even higher engagement with the brand for anyone anywhere else in the world.

Lead with emotion (P&G) – There is little debate that P&G should probably take the gold for marketing across the Olympics with their powerful “Proud Sponsor of Moms” campaign. Aside from the brilliantly emotional advertising, they created an actual house at the Olympics to welcome Moms, brought the ads to life through real interviews with Olympic athlete’s Moms and demonstrated that when a brand stands for something bigger than products … people come along for the ride and can’t help talking about it.

Be unexpected (British Airways) – Telling people not to fly and to stay home may be the most unexpected thing that an airline could ever do, but British Airways managed to make it work with their “Don’t Fly” campaign that had their industry and people talking in Britain. Promoting all the positives of having a “home advantage,” the campaign aimed to get Londoners (and more broadly people across Britain) to stay home, enjoy the Olympics, and cheer for the home team. Consistent messaging, a Twitter hashtag (#homeadvantage) and creative ideas like painting huge national messages onto grass along the flight path to Heathrow kept people talking.

Published by

Rohit Bhargava

Rohit is a founding member of the 360 Digital Influence group at Ogilvy and author of the best selling new book Personality Not Included, an actually useful (gasp!) guide on how to use personality to reinvent your marketing that has been published in 8 languages. He writes the top rated Influential Marketing blog and has been featured on the cover of PR Week and in The Wall Street Journal, BusinessWeek, and other suitably impressive publications. Rohit teaches global marketing at Georgetown University and is proud of his reputation as a fun and "non-obvious" keynote speaker who has presented at TEDx and other events across the world on authenticity, social media, and why marketing is no longer like feeding a baby.