The Three Levels of Branding at Beijing

It's about sponsors, the Olympics themselves, and most of all, China

Posted on Conversation Starter: August 6, 2008 8:34 AM

The 2008 Olympics have already become "the branded Olympics," even before the opening ceremonies. The branding is at three levels—with hundreds of millions of dollars at stake, along with a nation's global image.

First, Olympics sponsors are the most visibly commercial aspect of the Games to the huge television audiences. The "five rings" is one of the most readily and widely recognized organizational symbols in the world. The dozen corporate members of the Olympic Partner Program each pay an estimated $70+ million for the four-year exclusive rights in their category to be a global sponsor and use the rings. They spend many millions more to implement ("activate") their sponsorship via merchandising and other promotional means. Coca-Cola has been an Olympic sponsor since 1928. Lenovo is the only one headquartered in China, and made its Olympic debut in Turin in 2006. And Visa heavily promotes both itself and the Olympics with advertising that reminds us it is the only credit card accepted at the Games.

Second, these sponsors are co-branding with the Olympics brand itself. The power of the Olympics brand derives from three distinct strong elements of differentiation. The Olympics are infrequent—one every four years by events competed and every two years by calendar. They are always about top-level athletes—the excellence of " citius, altius, fortius " (faster, higher, stronger). And they provide vehicles to express national pride, via tears and smiles from athletes and in hearts and minds of viewers. Not only top sponsors, but broadcasters, pay very large sums (almost $900 million by NBC for U.S. rights for the 2008 Games) to be the focal point of 24-hour (available) viewing via multiple networks plus digital coverage.

Finally, the biggest brand of Beijing 2008 is China itself. Indeed, to many, China has effectively co-branded with the Olympics to elevate the country's visibility and the salience of its marketplace on the world stage. This is not the first time the Olympics have been a vehicle for country branding; 1936 (Berlin) and 1964 (Tokyo) are examples. But China's "coming out party" reflects and signals its significance in sports, its magnitude as an economy, and its power in global politics.

We won't know until after the closing ceremonies, perhaps well after, how satisfied the sponsors (and advertisers) were, how successful the competition was for the reputation of the Olympics, and whether China's image was enhanced. These judgments, like the events themselves, await us.

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