Olympic Ambush Analysis – Part 2: Olympic Sponsor Awareness Surveys

Steel question mark editEvery four years, the Summer Olympics roll around, and with it, meaningless sponsor awareness surveys.

Media love to sensationalise this frivolity, calling sponsor who appear on the list “winners”, while sponsors that don’t are “underachievers”. Then, of course, there are the non-sponsors who show up on the list, who are roundly referred to as “ambushers” (cue disparaging looks and finger-wagging). In reality, those lists mean absolutely nothing.

First off, there are myriad reasons why a company might end up on one of these “can you name the sponsors of the Olympics” (or similar) lists – or not – and many of those reasons have nothing to do with actual performance.

Why a brand might end up on the list…

They leverage well

If a sponsor leverages their sponsorship really well, making their participation both relevant to a target market and adding value to their experience, that sponsor will stick in people’s minds. This is the ideal situation.

They are the category leader

In the absence of any knowledge or memory of the actual sponsors, people will tend to go through the following process:

  • Mentally list the categories of sponsors that would likely sponsor the Olympics (or a team).
  • Name the category leader or the brand in that category that they use.

In other words, whether Qantas sponsors the Australian Olympic Team or not, and whether they are an effective sponsor or not, they are likely to be named as the airline sponsor by many people participating in the survey. I believe this contributes more than any other factor to which brands are named.

They are an effective ambusher

If a non-sponsor (legally) leverages the larger event experience in a way that creates relevance and adds value to the experience, a target market will name them.

Why a brand might not make it onto the list…

Their target market is not “general public”

While I’m sure the survey group includes a reasonably diverse set of people, if a sponsor is targeting a specific group – like a business-to-business market in a specific industry – chances are that even if they are a great sponsor doing amazing leverage, many of the people surveyed won’t know about it. Nor should they. If the target is narrow, doing a lot of broad, consumer leverage just to ensure they make it on these meaningless lists is a waste.

The brand hasn’t launched their major leverage push yet

Some brands concentrate their leverage efforts right around the Games. I’m not a huge advocate of this, and like to see major investments leveraged for as long as they are relevant, there may be some strategic reason for it.

People don’t pay attention to the Olympics until they’re on

Some people love the Olympics and really follow all of the coverage and activities in the lead-up. Some don’t, and really don’t compute Olympic messaging until it’s happening. (I can say this because – aside from my work – I’m one of these people.) They may answer entirely differently the day after the Opening Ceremony than they would a month beforehand.

The brand doesn’t get it

If a brand doesn’t leverage at all – or it’s all a bunch of self-congratulatory, “proud sponsors of…” hoo-ha – they won’t be memorable.

The real problem

My real problem with these lists isn’t that they are inaccurate representations of whether a sponsor is making some kind of awareness impact with their target markets, but that the contention that awareness equates to marketing return. It doesn’t.

Awareness of a sponsorship has been shown by research not to impact the perceptions of a brand or the behaviours around a brand in any way. Marketing is all about changing perceptions and behaviours. So, if generating awareness doesn’t equate to marketing return, what is the point of these surveys, aside from creating a salacious story angle for media and propping up the waning credibility of those sponsorship “research” organisations.

My advice? Take a page from the book of best practice sponsorship professionals and ignore those surveys and the companies who do them.


© Kim Skildum-Reid. All rights reserved. For republishing information see Blog and White Paper Reprints.

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