Friday, February 12, 2010

Should the Olympics be more selective about whom its sponsors are?

The central idea about sponsorship is that the sponsor’s brand gets endowed with associations from the event/individual being sponsored. In the case of the Olympics, the “Olympic” brand exists to endow associations like “world-class”, “achievement”, “mastery of a field”, “fairness”, “sportsmanship” on to the sponsor. These are all highly desirable intangible associations that can be transferred to virtually any product category- from fast food firms to communications companies. Little wonder so many companies line up for Olympic sponsorship (the 2008 Beijing Olympics had more than 48 corporate sponsors and the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics have well over 60 sponsors) and are willing to pay big bucks to do it. Coca-cola, for example, spent an estimated $70million USD to be one of the lead sponsors of the Olympics in ’08.

Given the favorable associations that the Olympics can convey, it’s also easy to see why struggling brands want to sponsor the Olympics. Bell Canada, for example has to overcome associations related to being one of the most hated brands in the country. (A quick search on Google of Bell Canada sucks spews out more than 100,000 sites and BrandMojo has Bell Canada rankings at Enron and Halliburton levels) But any decent brander knows that association transfer works both ways. The Olympics benefits from the “internationalism”, “optimism” and “happiness” values of a brand like Coca-Cola or “performance” related associations of Omega. This takes us to my next point- the Olympic brand can also be hurt by the negative associations from sponsors like Bell (read the blogs to see the extensive, visceral criticisms about the brand). The point that I am making is this, all sponsorship dollars are not equal; the sponsorship of favorable brands like Coca-Cola, Omega, and Rona are worth a lot more to the Olympics than sponsorship dollars from brands like Bell. The Olympic brand ought to consider this more when forming its "partnerships".


  1. While obviously the "average consumer" has not taken the extremely useful course of brand management, could it not be said that he/she would at least recognize that Bell sponsors for mere brand exposure? Following that, perhaps a consumer thinks "Oh, they just want publicity which is why they are sponsoring the Olympics" and (possibly not transfer negative Bell associations onto the Olympic brand?) Of course, I only base this on the comments that I hear from my family as we watch TV and whatnot.

  2. You got it right again Bob.

  3. Awesome point. I totally neglected brand-building wrt to awareness and awareness itself can be a valuable component to brand building. That being said, generally speaking, brand image is more valuable than simple exposure. (theoretically: a brand with less awareness but more favorable associations should perform better than more awareness and neutral associations)

    And Bell doesn't care if its brand tarnishes the Olympics brand- it just wants to absorb associations from the halo of the Olympics and other world-class brands (in addition to getting exposure :o))

  4. I always find it amazing how little ppl know about what corporations give back to the community. Corporate sponsorships allow the games to actually take place. There would be no Olympics otherwise. And ppl would be surprised to know that the relative complaints per subscriber is the same no matter which organization, large or small, you talk about. But the largest organizations, have the most complaints because they have the most subscribers. It's basic math.

    And BTW, Bell's sponsorship is MUCH larger than Coke's. And every image, every broadcast, internet connection, phone call happens over the Bell network.

  5. Lots of really cool points made Anonymous:

    First, Bell's sponsorship is $90 million in cash plus $110 million in kind. (see ) That's a lot of coin. And the Bell family of brands will certainly benefit from the exposure and "halo" effect of the Olympics.

    Second, I totally agree that sponsorships play a valuable role in communities and countries - particularly when it comes to entertainment. Without corporate sponsors, we would have to rely more on other (more traditional)entertainment financing measures: (i) patrons (ii) private casinos (iii) government.

    Third, I'll make the case that Bell is a lot more "hated" than the other telecom companies. For example, Bell has almost twice the hater to lover ratio than the next "worst" Canadian telecom (Rogers)according to BrandMojo. Those are normalized findings and not based on size.

  6. The big thing is why do I hate certain brands. I can't stand Ed Hardy because its so friggin balleresque. I switched from Bell because they constantly screwed up my bills. I hate Nike because of the sweatshops and the CEOs arrogent view of thinking kids working in shit conditions is cool (Google it you can find all sorts of quotes).