Olympism is a philosophy of life based on the joy of effort, good examples, social responsibility and ethical principles. It is an attractive idea that big brands are keen to be identified with.

“Olympic sponsor brands start with a huge advantage,” says Peter Walshe, Global BrandZ director at Millward Brown. “Sponsorship acts both as a flag waver for the brand in some very important areas, as well as a defence against some key competitors.”

Five top 100 brands, Coca-Cola, GE, McDonald’s, Panasonic, Samsung and Visa, are members of the International Olympic Committee’s The Olympic Partner (TOP) programme. Meanwhile the London 2012 Olympic Partners include Top 100 Adidas, BMW and BP, and Cisco is an official supporter.

BrandZ compared the TOP sponsors with their closest competitors. These were Coca Cola with Pepsi, GE with Siemens, McDonald’s with KFC, Samsung with Sony and Visa with MasterCard. They scored 118 on leadership, against 105 for their competitors, 113 on brand desire (104) and 108 for corporate reputation (101).

“They are powerful brands that are leaders in their field,” says Mr Walshe, “There is no evidence that they are stronger and more powerful simply because of the Olympics. The bigger, more successful brands tend to be the sponsors.”

It is no coincidence sports sponsorship is dominated by large global brands as multinational companies need to extend the reach of their products.

“Global sporting and other events are ideal platforms for businesses to move from national to global brand identities and become familiar around the world,” says Terry Tyrrell, worldwide chairman for The Brand Union, a global branding agency within the WPP Group. “These platforms are good value when you compare them with standalone global corporate advertising campaigns. If a big organisation is not building its reputation on a global basis, it will be ‘gobbled up’ by 2030.”

However, he warns clients to be wary of associating themselves with sports tarnished by bribery, corruption, match-fixing and bad behaviour. This is why aligning with the Olympic philosophy is a great opportunity.

The BrandZ research shows that discontinuing TOP sponsorship would give competitors an opportunity to replace them. “There can be almost as much value in stopping someone else doing it as in you doing it yourself,” says Mr Walshe.

He adds: “Being in possession of a great property, and the leadership stance that confers on you, gives you powerful support.”

While Beijing was an opportunity for brands to establish themselves in a growing market, London is a mature market and is a popular tourist destination.

Heather Hancock, lead 2012 partner at Deloitte, a London 2012 Official Supporter, she believes Olympic sponsorship has reached a turning point.

“Big, heavy overt marketing-style brand activity and ‘splash’ advertising is
giving way to more subtle values-led activity,” she says. She cites the example of BP, oil and gas and also sustainability and carbon offset partner, positioning itself to being a new generation energy company rather than just linked to fossil fuels.

Steve Martin, chief executive of M&C Saatchi Sport & Entertainment, a communications agency, says sponsors are linking culture and the “look and feel” of London. “Creatively, London is a rich territory,” he says. “It is globally renowned with a unique personality that travels very well, and brands can attach themselves to that.”

An example is Coca Cola’s “Anywhere in the World” 2012 song and its Beatbox interactive musical pavilion in the Olympic park. “We aim to bring teenagers closer to the Olympic Games, and to sport in general, by harnessing their passion for music and drawing inspiration from London’s musical heritage,” says the company.

One problem for the TOP sponsors is that they have to commit several games ahead, without knowing which cities and national markets they will be supporting. Matt Rogan, managing director of Two Circles, a sports business consultancy, and a board director at the European Sponsorship Association, says “second world”’ nations are increasingly interested in hosting such events and the Olympic movement is aspiring to drive long-term societal benefit.

This may be very worthy, but Mr Rogan can see a possible tension with sponsors who want to be in first world nations or at least in very fast-growing emerging markets.

“We should not underestimate the reach and power of sport to engage with large audiences, both consumer and business,” adds Mr Walshe. “If you can link your brand positively, without interrupting the audience’s enjoyment, and actually be seen as helping to deliver it, then the credit that comes to you as a brand is absolutely enormous. You are getting to people with something that is highly enjoyable and engaging, rousing those emotions like few other things can do.”

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