Marketing the 2012 Olympics: Who do Consumers Think is Going for Gold?

The Olympic Games (aka “the greatest show on earth”) come to London in July 2012. Just like the athletes who will be the stars of the show, marketers have been preparing for this event for years and are bombarding consumers with Olympic-themed campaigns, many of which are embracing innovative strategies.

Download the Euromonitor Olympics Briefing for insight on how the London Olympic Games will impact other consumer industries

Commercial opportunities

  • Many Olympic athletes are youthful, successful, attractive and widely admired – brands can benefit greatly by being associated with them;
  • The Olympics is unique in its combination of ancient tradition and modernity, giving it a universal appeal that is unmatched by any other sporting or cultural event;
  • Overkill is an ever-present risk with Olympic marketing, which could leave consumers jaded and cynical.


On July the 27th, the Games of the XXX Olympiad (more commonly referred to as the Summer Olympics or just the Olympics) will open in London. Over 17 days, thousands of elite athletes from around the world will compete for medals in a host of events ranging from athletics to shooting. They will be looking to reap the reward of years of training, discipline and sacrifice. At the same time, many brands will be seeking to execute Olympic marketing strategies that they hope will (after a fashion) also win gold.

A ‘heavy’ reliance on social networking

While social media was a factor in marketing related to the Beijing Olympics four years ago, it is set to be much more visible this time around. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Marc Pritchard, head of marketing at Procter & Gamble (P&G), said: “You’ll see some very heavy-duty digital activity for our Olympics programme… We have more than 30 brands doing Olympics activities and 150 athletes. All those brands have Facebook pages, and all those athletes have Facebook pages. Then we go out, create an event, talk about it and push it out through broadcast and digital. Then we have community managers who are amplifying the discussion, engaging on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.”

Adapting old media to new times

P&G is combining increased investment in online marketing with more traditional channels like television: For example, it is running a TV ad featuring the mothers of some well-known Olympic athletes (such as Jennifer Bolt, the mother of Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt) entitled “Best Job.” It claims that the spot “honours everything that all moms do to help their children succeed by showcasing the amazing moms behind Olympic athletes.”

As well as airing on TV networks around the world, it has proven very popular on YouTube, attracting 4.6 million hits by late June 2012. It clearly touched an emotional chord with many viewers: According to one poster on the site: “This touched my heart in a wonderful way.” Another said: “When the video ended, I went to my Mom and said ‘thanks for everything’ and just cried.” A third said: “Is this really an advertisement? If so, it’s a great one.”

Regardless of the medium, making an emotional connection tends to be facilitated by a connection with the Olympics, where medal winners (as well as some of those who fail to make the podium) are often known to shed tears. Moreover, in the era of Tivo and time-lapse TV viewing, it highlights how consumers find some Olympic messages significant enough to seek out online.

UK Adspend by Media Type: 2012 

US$ billions (constant 2011 prices)



Source: Euromonitor International from World Association of Newspapers

Note: Data is forecast

BA et al strive to tap patriotic spirit

June 2012 saw the celebration of Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee and British Airways (BA) is attempting to tap into the patriotic spirit this has engendered in the UK in its Olympic marketing campaign. For a fortnight during April 2012, the airline opened an airline-themed pop-up venue called “Flight BA2012” in the trendy London suburb of Shoreditch that celebrated “the best in British talent.”

The three-in-one venue featured an art gallery, cinema and dining room, where diners were able to sample a “bold British menu” created by Michelin-star chef Simon Hulstone. According to one blogger, “Maybe it’s because I am a serious foodie, or maybe it’s just the envy that most of us feel when turning right instead of left when entering an aircraft, but this looks genius to me.”

Meanwhile, to mark the Olympics, the British Fashion Council paired nine top fashion designers with nine artists in a project entitled Britain Creates 2012: Fashion + Art Collusion. The resulting artworks, showcasing British originality, will be exhibited at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum in July.

But “Dove” aircraft get a mixed reception

In April, British artist Tracey Emin unveiled the first of a set of special Olympics-inspired plane designs for BA. The outside artwork of the nine “Dove” aircraft was designed by Brighton-based artist Pascal Anson, a protégé of Emin. However, many posters on the Daily Mail’s internet site were unimpressed: According to one, “Yuck! I don’t get the Olympic connection?” “Looks hideous,” another lamented.

Tread carefully

Allegations of cynicism and overkill are frequently made against Olympic-related marketing. This risk is highlighted by stories of brands being heavy handed about exclusivity. For example, credit card company Visa was heavily criticised after it was revealed that ATMs at Olympic venues were to be replaced by ones that would only accept Visa cards.

Writing in the London-based Observer newspaper, journalist Heather Stewart bemoaned “wall-to-wall Olympics marketing guff, plastered over hours of telly advertising, acres of billboards, and even the labels on milk bottles… the Olympic dream has little to do with rippling athleticism or heroic sporting endeavour, and everything to do with flogging washing powder and sausage-and-egg McMuffins.”

According to one online poster, “The Olympics … is just a money making binge for corporate sponsors.” Another commented: “The never ending waves of branding and sponsor advertising are overwhelming and depressing.” However, a third said: “People enjoy the spectacle of the Olympic Games. If they didn’t, then they would not watch… The commercial sponsorships make the games possible.”

The “brand police” get heavy

Thanks to legislation passed by the British government after London was awarded the event, businesses that are not official sponsors are prohibited from using certain words or phrases that might relate to the Games. For example, they cannot place a sign outside their premises using the phrase “London 2012” and are restricted in their use of such words as summer, medals, sponsor, silver, gold and bronze. This “proscribed” language is available only to official sponsors, such as Samsung, Coca-Cola, Procter & Gamble and Visa.

During summer 2012, the British media have carried a significant number of stories about small businesses celebrating the Olympics being threatened with legal action. According to one online forum poster, “Sports are a sideshow. It’s all about marketing,” while another said: “This whole thing has become very ugly… Time to refocus on the sport itself.”


In spite of these difficulties, consumer sentiment towards the Olympic Games remains overwhelmingly favourable, making it a magnet for global brands. As well as being a celebration of youthful vigour and athletic prowess, if it is managed adroitly, London 2012 will also be a showcase for sponsors that will deepen brand recognition and loyalty and ultimately boost profits.