Are Olympic sponsors making the most of their prestigious status through their digital channels?

After seven long years of anticipation, the Olympics are finally upon us. And, as widely noted within digital circles, London 2012 will be history’s first truly social media Olympics.

Whilst there has been much frothing at the mouth about non-official brands taking advantage of the Games, LOCOG restrictions on Tweeting sportspeople and the fact that massive media outfits like NBC are partnering with Twitter and Facebook to ensure social coverage of the games, no one has taken a step back to look at how official Olympics partners and sponsors are amplifying their prestigious (and expensive) connections to the Games via search and social media.

We audited 33 of the Olympic brand partners, across all four tiers (Worldwide Olympic Partners, London 2012 Olympic Partners, London 2012 Olympic Sponsors and London 2012 Olympic Providers/Suppliers) and took an in-depth look at each brand’s Olympics activities through paid and natural search, their websites and social media activity.

As with most sector-wide audits, the results vary greatly. For every medal winner, there are at least a couple of losers. Despite the vast sums of money that brands invest in Olympic sponsorship, some are massively under-playing their hard-fought (and ultimately hard-bought) Olympic association through search and social media channels. Likewise, we found that many brands weren’t maximising their own websites as promotional platforms.

Search

Our analysis found that, with the exception of digital-savvy Coca-Cola, very few Olympic sponsors or partners are using paid search (PPC) to tell the world about their relationship with the Games. In fact, Cisco and Panasonic were the only other brands to use this important method of promotion.

On the natural search side, only EDF, Adecco and Trebor had highlighted their prestigious Olympic relationships through their site descriptions, links or natural listings.

The remaining brands, and this includes some digitally-applauded names like British Airways and John Lewis, are not capitalising on the global surge in Olympic searches. There are some simple steps that these brands could take in terms of both SEO and PPC and we certainly feel that this seems like a serious missed commercial opportunity.

Websites

It is very much evident that this is where the majority of Olympic brands’ online marketing budgets have been spent. Nearly all brands have made an effort in communicating their Olympic association through some form of website promotion. The level of activity here seems to correlate with the level of sponsorship, meaning that Worldwide Olympic Partners are going for gold, but lesser Partners are aiming for bronze.

Many brands are using their website homepages to promote their relationship, and then linking to dedicated Olympics websites or site areas, to host more in-depth Olympic information and, sometimes, specific marketing campaigns (with British Airways’  innovative #HomeAdvantage campaign standing out as a winner in the digital race).

Some other brands, like Omega, Visa and Adidas, are using strong, impactful visuals as a way to highlight their Olympic association. But Eurostar, Next and Thomas Cook are – curiously – underplaying their Olympic status with games branding on their websites often being too subtle for consumers to notice. These brands could be doing a whole lot more, even when taking into account LOCOG brand protection restrictions.

Social Media 

We primarily used Facebook activity as an indicator of how well social media channels are being used by Olympic brands. This is largely because Facebook represents the widest opportunity for brand engagement. Facebook’s Timeline functionality feels almost tailor-made for Olympic status promotion offering a great opportunity to develop a dialogue around each brand’s Olympic relationship, especially in a visually-engaging way.

The brands that seem to be making the most out of their Olympic involvement on Facebook include British Airways, Omega, Samsung, Visa, Lloyds TSB and UPS. These brands can be praised for using the 2012 logo alongside cover photos, apps and Timeline milestones.  Such a considered approach shows a well thought-out, and well-executed, strategy aimed at completely maximising their association with the Olympics.

Alas, not all brands are so ahead of the game. It is a cause for concern, or perhaps simply a missed opportunity, that a significant number of Olympic brands haven’t really used Facebook to promote their relationship, beyond a series of Wall updates. Those lagging behind include big names like Thomas Cook, Heineken and Ticketmaster.

More worrying still, the social media strategies of several Olympic brands – Trebor, Adecco, ArcelorMittal and Thames Water – appear to have not been fully considered. Why invest all that time and money in being associated with the games and then fail to use social media to increase public visibility of your Olympic status?

Conclusion

The take out message from our audit is that brands fully understand the value of investing in website promotions, but the over-arching underuse of search and social media makes it feel like we’re stuck in Beijing 2008. In fact, it’s been a real surprise to find that not all brands have fully trained their social media strategies in time for the Games. After all, 2012 is a time when social media has become the Internet’s number one activity.

Brands invest vast sums in Olympic partnerships and sponsorship as a way of increasing consumer awareness and driving sales, whilst also being associated with something so globally prominent. Consumers are online now more than ever, but they don’t necessarily jump directly onto websites. Search and social media are where people source and share information; if brands aren’t fully exploiting these channels, using them to increase their awareness when all eyes are on the Games, they’ve got zero chance of becoming marketing’s next Bradley Wiggins.

And finally…

Search and social media can be used for more than mere promotion of Olympic brand status, with reputation management being another key facet. Naturally, this brings us to G4S.

The issues with G4S and Olympic recruiting have been well reported, leaving the company having to react quickly to the negative reaction that’s taking place online. The fall out is absolutely massive, and whilst the business has been reasonably responsive, there’s certainly room for improvement. But that’s a whole other story…

Jonny Rosemont is head of social media at search and social media agency, DBD Media.