Sponsors fall short of gold standard

Olympic 2012 sponsors need sophisticated social media, shows our study as reported by Marketing Week

This article appears courtesy of Marketing Week and is an edited version of the original, here

YouGov’s BrandIndex tool, which measures brand health, shows that few of the London 2012 sponsors appear to be significantly benefitting from their association with the Games.

The day Britain picked up the Olympic flame from Athens in May was the day UK Twitter users began talking about the event in earnest. And they haven’t stopped since, which means the London Games will be the most digitally connected Olympics ever.

But while the Olympic buzz has undoubtedly grown louder among the UK’s social media community – with many athletes’ Twitter updates making the front pages of national newspapers - most of the Olympic sponsor brands don’t yet appear to be strongly associated with the Games on Twitter.

According to our data, as reported by Marketing Week, the number of times the Olympics were mentioned on Twitter suddenly jumped on 17th May when Princess Anne received the flame in a ceremony in Athens. That began the Olympic torch relay, which will culminate with the opening ceremony of the Games in London on 27th July.

  • On the day the torch was collected, the word 'Olympics' reached 39% of the social network’s UK users via the Twitter accounts they were following
  • Compared with a reach of just 21% the day before, according to YouGov
  • On peak days, around two-thirds were seeing tweets containing references to the Olympics appearing in their feeds

YouGov’s social media audience measurement tool SoMA analyses more than 10,000 UK-based Twitter accounts, giving a representative sample of the tweets seen by British users.

Group Director of New Products Andy Morris says: "The arrival of the Olympic torch in Britain caused a leap in discussion of the Olympics on social media that has continued to build ever since."

Sponsors not making best use of association

Despite this, when Marketing Week further analysed the data covering the worldwide sponsors of the IOC and the top two tiers of London 2012 sponsors, it discovered that the Olympics hasn’t been among the top five topics mentioned in relation to most of them since the torch relay began, showing that the majority of the sponsors are not making best use of their association with the Games.

  • The only brands for which Olympic-related words are in the top five related topics in that time are Dow Chemical, McDonald’s, Omega, Visa, British Airways and ArcelorMittal
  • And, for many of those brands listed above, the comments being made about them in connection with the Olympics have been predominantly negative
  • Only for Omega, which provides all official timekeeping devices used at the Games, has the Olympics been a top-five topic of discussion on Twitter for mostly positive reasons since 17th May

Indeed, other brands have received far more positive attention for other sponsorship properties – Adidas for the Euro 2012 football tournament, BP for its annual portrait prize, and BT for securing Premier League football broadcasting rights next season.

Other social networks and online attention

Not all the Olympic sponsors will see an explicit association on Twitter with words and phrases such as 'Olympics' as being a reliable measure of their marketing performance in social media, not least because many are prioritising Facebook, LinkedIn and other social networks.

But while most sponsors will have more nuanced ways of gauging the success of their Olympic activity on social media, the basic level of their sponsorship’s reach is undoubtedly relevant, as is the resulting impact on perceptions of the brand.

YouGov’s SoMA data, combined with that from its BrandIndex tool giving a daily snapshot of a brand’s health (its perception among the public), shows that negative stories that achieve high reach on Twitter can also have an immediate impact on consumers’ attitudes.

  • For example, the biggest spike so far in Olympics-related Twitter mentions of sponsor McDonald’s came on 11 July, reaching 14% of UK Twitter users.
  • These mentions were mainly connected to an online petition objecting to the tax exemption that McDonald’s gained from its sponsorship of the Olympics (that it is not choosing to take up the tax exemption didn't prevent the petition from gaining traction online)

The brand was also criticised that day because of a ban on rival food vendors selling chips to workers at Olympic venues. Over the course of the week, McDonald’s BrandIndex score fell significantly despite the company making concessions in both instances.

McDonald’s had received more negative publicity a few days earlier when its sponsorship of the Games, along with that of Coca-Cola, was called 'obscene' by a cardiologist on the BBC’s Newsnight programme on 9 July. The two brands received different levels of attention on Twitter, though both experienced negative impacts on their brand perceptions.

Andy Morris explains: "There was a minor spike in mentions of the brands on Twitter but a significant difference in their reach, with McDonald’s going from 5% to 7% while Coca-Cola leapt from 9% to 23%. This can be largely put down to the president of the American College of Cardiology serving as a Coca-Cola participant carrying the Olympic flame on the same day, and highly followed tweeters sharing this information."

Long-term effects?

But while both brands experienced downturns in their BrandIndex scores around the time the stories broke, the long-term effects might not be particularly significant.

Adidas similarly received unwelcome attention on Twitter after a shoe designed with a plastic ‘shackle’ was withdrawn for being reminiscent of slavery, but did not see a drop in overall brand perceptions.

McDonald’s BrandIndex score is virtually unchanged from its level when the Olympic torch relay began on 17th May. On that measure, it has done better in the run-up to the Games than most other sponsors, despite having experienced some of the worst publicity and social media backlashes in that time.

In fact, using an eight-week moving average, only five of the 16 sponsor brands that are covered by the BrandIndex survey have seen their overall scores improve by more than 0.1 index points. EDF has jumped six places in the past six weeks, sitting at number 17 of the 27 utilities companies listed on the BrandIndex survey, indicating that the association with the Games is boosting its standing. (Most business-to-business brands do not feature in the tool.)

After the Games begin

It remains to be seen whether the Olympic sponsors will see a boost in either their reach or their brand health once the Games actually start. Given the immediacy of Twitter as a medium, the sponsors’ social media associations with the Olympics have perhaps not hit their peak yet.

Indeed, Coca-Cola says it will increase its social media activity substantially once the Games start, in part due to a new Twitter account, which will help promote the ten-day Olympic broadcast of its new online and ITV show, Beat TV. (coca-cola.com/theolympics.)

There will also be more competition for attention on social media during the Games, as Olympics-related conversations are likely to be dominated by the events themselves. Non-sponsor brands are also likely to find ways to exploit the Games on social media without infringing the sponsorship rights.

So while social media conversations will be a big part of how consumers in the UK and around the world experience London 2012, it looks increasingly hard for brands to make themselves heard on social networks. The sponsors’ best way of gaining positive social media associations in London this summer might be to focus their efforts on ensuring the event itself becomes a cause of celebration.

This article appears courtesy of Marketing Week and is an edited version of the original, here

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