Not but a few Games ago, trying to take promotional advantage of the Olympics if you weren't a sponsor was as difficult as teaching a Los Angeles Kings "fan" the meaning of icing (Disclosure: I'm from Detroit). That is, unless you shelled out the Gross Domestic Product of Algeria (actually, about $100 million) to be deemed an Official Olympic Sponsor. Cue trumpets!
But in the case of the 2012 London games, you can develop a significant presence and access the event without investing serious sponsor-level cash. The benefits of "hacking" your way in are obvious: You avoid paying the hundreds of millions of dollars required to obtain the privilege of using the colored rings in your ads and on your packaging, while exposing your brand to a ginormous amount of impressions on a global scale.
But aren't the International Olympic Committee and British lawmakers cracking down on companies that are using terms such as Olympics and London 2012 in their marketing?
Yeah, sure, they are, but their efforts are equivalent to giving a class of sixth graders a box of Pixy Stix candy and telling them it's "nap time." You may succeed once or twice, but not across the board. And, anyway, you don't need to run afoul of the brand police.
So, here are five ways marketers can use the popularity of the Olympics to their benefit while avoiding the long arms of Constable McGee.
1. Have something to say
Don't enter the gauntlet just because you want to see what will happen if you make the effort. Organize a product launch, event, or contest/sweepstakes. Considering all the eyeballs you'll be in front of, try to hook some of them and get those people to interact with your brand.
2. Come up with your own tagline/association
Nike's #makeitcount is a good example of a brand bobbing and weaving around Adidas's official sponsorship. The Olympics offer many other opportunities for brands across different product categories. The Olympics are a great sponsorship opportunity exactly because the event taps into the emotion of nationalistic pride and support of hard-working amateur athletes. You can play that up without using a bunch of colorful rings.
3. Feed the need for video
No doubt about it: People will seek video content on athletes, certain sports, and their country's performance. Developing timely, relevant video content can be key for "hacking" brands and driving deeper interaction from users.
For example, Pepsi could play up its recent Live For Now campaign by developing a daily medal tally by country and having a presenter break down the previous day's events. By avoiding the use of "no-no" words such as "Olympics" and "London," you can still create quality content that circumvents restrictions in effect because of Coca-Cola's sponsorship.
4. Use a little humor
I don't think many people out there are clueless about the events happening in merry ol' England this summer. (See how I did that? So can you.) Therefore, play it up to get people interested in your brand.
Though this may not be the most original idea in the world... you can use the fact that 18 places in the US are named London (cities, communities, and the like). Why not hold a table tennis tournament in one of those places (say London, AR) to show that some contenders were left behind? For a smaller brand, such as K-Swiss, that idea could be marketing genius (note: all content must include Kenny Powers).
5. Optimize for search
Because of the number of content options available, search results are going to be ripe for attracting users both on the paid search and search engine optimization (SEO) sides of the house. Monitor the competition to understand the content of their ads/placements and what holes may exist (e.g., time when daily caps are met, weak tagging of content), and then exploit that.
Drive traffic back to your site or to an outside sponsorship that is housing your content. In the case of sponsorships, negotiate with publishers to run search ads on your behalf as well. As long as you are driving traffic to different domains, you can run as many different paid search ads as you'd like. Doing so can block out competitors and increase your share of voice (so long as the ads are getting some clicks to maintain a certain level of quality score).
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If you implement these tips, you'll have the same feeling as taking a bite into Tidal Wave gum (refreshing!). Just remember that the work doesn't end when the games conclude on August 12. Plan your content strategy in advance so you can maintain involvement with your target audience. Have your summer campaign be the start of a larger effort that continues the story via a series of "episodes." Maintain relevancy via proper tracking and net new content creation/aggregation, and you'll have that gold-medal feeling up through the holidays.