OLN misses the Tour de France branding cycle.
Remember Quokka Sports? What an amazing company it was. By "amazing," of course, I mean "disappointing." Why on earth did that company go out of business? It had great vision, great backing, and great partners. It was going to be the only authorized online source for the Olympics.
What a bummer.
It left a legacy, though, at least in my mind. It came from a single comment the creative director made during a conference, talking about Quokka's purpose. He said, "The Web is a terrible place to watch a three-hour football game, but a great place to watch a three-week yacht race." At that moment, the roof of the New York Hilton on The Avenue of the Americas split open. An enormous rupture ran the entire length of the Petite Trianon Room, and sparkling shafts of light struck his head as a ring of small angels floated about his person, harmonizing.
Or something like that. I guess I don't remember exactly.
But, wow. He really hit the idea, didn't he? The Web is best for stories that evolve dynamically and over time. Stories loaded with data and commentary. I distinctly remember him saying "football," but it would've been more pointed if he picked a sport with an even faster pace, like hockey or basketball. He would have made me really happy if he'd said "bike race" rather than "yacht race."
The Greatest Sports Story Ever
Indulge me for a second -- the Tour de France is the greatest sporting event on the planet. The three-week long bike race is led (as of this writing) by a cancer survivor. This is engrossing TV. Cable station Outdoor Life Network (OLN) fully gets this and has worked with McCann-Erickson Worldwide to package the 2004 tour in just the right way -- on TV, at any rate. It still needs help bridging all that passion from the box to the desktop. This year's Tour de France is a lesson in near-miss integration.
The thing is, the economics are definitely there. According to a BrandWeek story, OLN expects a 328 percent increase in ad sales over last year's tour. This is just for TV, mind you. Now, OLN actually has a pretty good Web site, with banners and such on it. But it's missing the opportunity to not only build its own brand but also to leverage the gathering momentum of the event itself for its advertisers.
"The Cyclysm"... Whatever That Is
Probably the smartest thing OLN did was take some ownership of the event by branding its presentation of it. OLN and McCann-Erickson created a new brand they call "The Cyclysm." You can see the spots on OLN's site. The whole thing has a sort of a "Lord of the Rings" feeling, with "gathering forces" and such. McCann-Erickson knows how to do this; it doesn't focus on the race but on the people who are racing. It hasn't branded the race; it's branded its presentation of the race.
Then, it ends. OLN owns the cyclysm.com URL, but it's done nothing with it. Literally. The site resolves to a Network Solutions landing page. OLN hasn't even bothered with "thecyclysm.com" (it's available, if you're interested).The network's taken the Cyclysm spots hyping the race and put them as a gateway into its site and made a little Flash intro piece. Then the brand it created is gone. The Cyclysm brand could be the destination for all the passion it's tapped into with the commercials. Instead, we just get some online window dressing.
Search is another missed opportunity. On July 7, Lance Armstrong, the guy OLN's coverage is totally built around, took the overall lead in the tour. On that day, a Yahoo search for "Tour de France" displays an ad for Kraftwerk's album of the same name in the number three spot. Overstock pays a dime for each click.
The story doesn't get better in the organic listings. OLN doesn't show up on the first page. I could keep looking, but, if it's below the 1999 French lesson (result #20), I'm not all that interested. Of course, Yahoo Sports is at the top, with plenty of live information.
Excited by the OLN broadcast? Want more? Visit Yahoo? You probably won't end up in The Cyclysm.
The Myopia of Broadcast
Why doesn't OLN in 2004 get what Quokka got back in 1999? I think it's that 328 percent. The fact broadcast is selling at an accelerated clip, along with, I suppose, overall viewership, is getting the entire team focused on selling TV spots. Nothing strikes at the heart of innovation like money on the table.
OLN should take its great branding and make that a destination. Because the race is in Europe, Americans see the live broadcast early in the morning. It's over by breakfast. This means fans can sit all day at work browsing commentaries, visiting discussion boards, and viewing highlights (umm... I mean, that's what I hear people do). Today, after watching the race on OLN, people will go online and find the tour in a million other places: Yahoo Sports, ESPN, and countless cycling-focused sites.
I'm sure OLN will be quite happy with the results of this year's broadcast. It's tough to say it did it wrong. But one truly gets the feeling it's scratching at the door of true integration, a vision that's right for not only the event but also the presentation of the event.
When someone finally does integrate TV and the Web, advertisers will find the right spots for themselves, leveraging the opportunity to be alongside the broadcast andthe story, as it evolves throughout the day and throughout the weeks.
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Gary Stein is SVP, strategy and planning in iCrossing's San Francisco office. He has been working in marketing for more than a decade. Gary lives in San Francisco with his family. Follow him on Twitter: @garyst3in. The opinions expressed in Gary's columns are his alone.
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