Sunday 19 August 2012

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly: Corporate Marketing during the London 2012 Olympics

Alongside the fantastic sport and athletics, I have been both impressed and irritated by the corporate marketing associated with the London 2012 Olympics. In the run up to the games the overall corporate involvement was excessive, in particular the corporate floats that preceded the torch procession all around the country. But at the venues themselves it was heartening that the presence of logos was limited and the focus was entirely on the athletes.

Some companies, both Olympic sponsors and non-sponsors, ran clever advertising campaigns based around the Games. For others, the campaigns were so bland, dull or ‘in-your-face’ that they served only to annoy. And worst of all some sponsors used the Olympics as a licensed monopoly for their products, which has backfired in ironic style for some! Here is a summary of the best and worst corporate Olympic associations, based on both my opinion of their adverts and on the newspaper and social media views on the campaigns.

Gold Medals (Sponsors)

British Airways

BA’s witty, self-deprecating tagline ‘Don’t Fly. Support Team GB’ is probably the most memorable piece of advertising I’ve seen associated with these Olympics. It shows a very British sense of humour, and resonates Virgin Atlantic’s famous ‘fly BA,’ campaign of 1986*. What’s more, BA's ads used the #homeadvantage hashtag, which perhaps helped psyche-out foreign athletes as they arrived. It was risky at the time, but has been vindicated by Team GB’s epic performance.


Not necessarily the most prominent of the sponsors, but Cadbury punched above its weight with its poster campaign on London buses and Tube stations, with some humorous comparisons between athletics and chocolate bars. I, for one, was amazed to learn that cycles in a slipstream are ‘only one Twirl bar apart.’ These ads raised a smile – and Cadbury seems to have avoided being tainted by the ‘junk food’ brush that harmed McDonalds and Coca Cola (see below)

Gold Medal (Non-sponsor)


Nike has had such a phenomenally successful campaign that more people think Nike is an Olympic sponsor than Adidas**. Nike’s campaign, based on the theme of ‘greatness’ and the places called London that aren’t London,UK, cleverly side-stepped the prohibition on mentioning London 2012 and the Olympics in ads, while capturing the spirit of globalism and inspiration The Games represent.

Silver and Bronze Medals (Sponsors)


Samsung’s campaign was solid, but not exceptional, and avoided leaving a bitter feeling in the mouth as some other sponsors did. It was certainly more prominent than Panasonic, the other electronics-supplying sponsor!


Lots of sponsors tried to associate themselves with Team GB’s athletes, but non more successfully than Adidas, which helped make several up-and-coming competitors household names before the Games even began.

Silver and Bronze Medals (Non-sponsors)

Jack Daniels

Mainly for its cheekiness, I really liked Jack Daniel’s adverts which focused on its history of winning Gold Medals at international spirits expositions. It included interesting trivia (JD has won seven golds, then stopped entering competitions as seven is its lucky number) and associated itself cleverly with The Games at relatively low cost.

Wooden Spoon (Sponsors)


Lots of things were wrong with Visa’s campaign, but above all its insistence that everything Olympic can only be paid for by Visa really took the biscuit. You knew it was going too far when it switched off regular cash machines from Olympic venues, and replaced them with just a handful of Visa-only cash machines. Hilariously, its payment systems actually broke down at Wembley stadium early on in the Games. It managed to get blamed in ‘empty-seatgate,’ its adverts were boring and in-your-face, and it is pretty-much lacking in consumer credibility anyway. We do not, in general, get to choose to have Visa or MasterCard, we just take whichever is issued by our bank!

McDonalds, Coca-Cola

These two companies were mentioned in the press a lot, but mostly as part of commentary / incredulity at how two of the unhealthiest foodstuffs around feature so prominently in a festival of sporting prowess. Their products taste nice – but are so calorific they are fuelling an epidemic of obesity, which is what sport and athletics should be trying to fight, not cosy up to. What’s more, McDonald’s insistence on a monopoly over serving chips in Olympic venues (with the notable exception of Fish’n’chips) seemed petty, and Coca-Cola unwittingly brought its ownership of Innocent Smoothies to greater attention by making Innocent ‘the official smoothie of London 2012-’ not so Innocent after all, eh?

Do you agree or disagree? Share your thoughts in the comments box below!


*Richard Branson describes the episode in his book Screw It Let’s Do It: “On 10 June 1986, BA ran a promotion to give away 5,200 seats for travel from New York to London. Immediately, we ran an advertisement that said, ‘It has always been Virgin’s policy to encourage you to fly to London for as little as possible. So on June 10 we encourage you to fly British Airways.’”

**Thanks to Ad Age Global / Toluna for the research, and thanks to Private Eye magazine where I first read about this amusing survey!

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