Rebranding the Olympics

I’m one of the five million fortunate people who currently live Down Under, upside down, and in the center of the world’s biggest-ever branding exercise. It’s called Sydney 2000.

Being so close to a world event is not only exciting but fascinating from a brand-building perspective. When the International Olympic Committee (IOC) faced its major crises over alleged bribery following the Atlanta Games, I was one of the many who subconsciously killed off the Olympic philosophy in my mind. The allegations were so counter to the promise of the Olympic ideals that they dismantled much of the global community’s trust in them. No trust, no brand.

The Olympic Committee product is its image and philosophy: its brand identity and, by extension, that of the games that are underwriting the Sydney 2000 brand.

The Olympic Committee doesn’t own the Olympic city’s inventory, the city, the staff, or the athletes. It owns a philosophy and a valuable logo. So, for the past four years, preparation for the Sydney Games has largely been an exercise in pumping renewed trust into a deflated brand.

The repair work wasn’t only aimed at restoring sponsor faith but at rehabilitating the palpable, global cynicism occasioned by the corruption revelations. Sydney 2000 had a role to play in diverting the consumer’s focus from the Olympic Committee and its machinations to the Olympic’s core values: international friendship through sport. Sydney 2000 has built a brand that has had to surmount the politics of drug testing, potential terrorist threat, and sponsor withdrawals.

This has been a serious rebranding exercise, particularly because so many Olympic promises had failed in such a concentrated time, with such a large audience, and with tremendous money on the line.

Over the past year, Australia has participated in an intensive campaign to ensure that every citizen of the country is sympathetic to the true philosophies of the Olympics. Hundreds of thousands of Australian kids have participated in drawing competitions that resulted in 10,000 of those drawings being selected for display in all the rooms housing the athletes. Community cleanup days have been staged and enthusiastically participated in to ensure the place looks its best for its visitors and the world’s media.

The Olympic torch has visited every city in the country, having been run around diverse regional population centers and held aloft by thousands of Australians. The torch relay has been a carefully controlled contribution toward selling the Sydney 2000 brand to an often cynical population.

And in the fight for rebranding, the Sydney Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (SOCOG) has introduced a Sydney 2000 brand DNA. And when I say “brand DNA,” I mean brand DNA.

A true human DNA has been replicated and included as an ingredient in the ink used on all official Sydney 2000 merchandise that carries the valuable Olympic logo. Armed with special equipment, SOCOG officials can identify when the official ink has been used on merchandise and when it hasn’t. And this is how they can spot whether merchandise is authentic or not. This resulted in tons of merchandise being destroyed over the past few weeks because it didn’t pass the brand DNA test.

Even though the 2000 Olympics seems to be just another major world event, Sydney 2000 has been a significant branding exercise. SOCOG has fought hard to convince sponsors that the Games are worth every cent of the millions of dollars they have pumped into them. And believe me, SOCOG has had its hands full persuading sponsors that the price of sponsorship wasn’t too high. The Sydney committee also had to ensure that a country full of taxpayers supported the more than AUS$2 billion that was spent on enabling Sydney to meet the cosmetic demands of the Olympic brand.

Now, I’d love to tell you what my opinion is on all this, but that’s of little interest to you. What Sydney 2000 has amply demonstrated is what we, in marketing language, would call the first stage of a major rebranding exercise. Right now the new, slightly revised product is appearing on the shelves. It’s now, while the Games are in progress, that the rebranding efforts will be realized.

What more can I say but good luck to the athletes, to the IOC, and to the marketers – SOCOG. To be continued…

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