There is just one comment displayed this morning on Bloomberg’s “Alternate Olympic Medal Count,” which is a tally of the number of medals won by athletes sponsored by a brand or company. “Where is Puma … and Nike?”
The answer, at least as far as Nike is concerned, is quite clear in a picture of U.S. decathlon gold and silver medalists Ashton Eaton and Trey Hardee that appeared on NBCNews.com. Their yellow Nike Volts pop off the page against all the red, white and blue. “As the Olympics wind down, marketing experts are awarding a gold medal in ambush marketing to Nike,” writes Bill Briggs, “which scored with bold commercials, smart PR moves and its distinctive, ubiquitous neon-yellow Volt shoes.”
Rival Adidas reportedly paid $155 million to be an official London 2012 sponsor. Its rights as an official sponsor, which were outlined last week in a piece by Brand Keys president and “MarketShare” blogger Robert Passikoff on Forbes.com, included a letter from the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) that advised children who wanted to watch the athletes parade route through Olympic Park “to wear ‘comfortable, unbranded or Adidas shoes.”
And if they didn’t heed the advisory?
Leslie Smolan, co-founder of Carbone Smolan Agency, tells Briggs that Nike’s use of the garish shoes was “absolutely brilliant.” You couldn’t miss them – according to Nike, 41 athletes won medals wearing the shoes as of Friday, including 43% of track and field medalists.
“Nike managed to integrate themselves into the games — the best way to show your product, not just talk about it,” says Smolan. It was “exactly the kind of guerrilla product insertion that makes marketers smile and the (International Olympic Committee) nuts,” adds Adam Hanft, CEO of Hanft Projects.
Nike scored with some unusual TV spots, too. One that caught the eye of Washington Post “On Parenting” blogger Janice D’Arcy features Nathan, an overweight 12 year old from London, Ohio, who slowly jogs toward the camera as an earnest, British-accented voiceover tells us that greatness “is not some precious thing … we’re all capable of it. All of us.” It made some people cry; it made others accuse Nike of crass commercialism, reports D’Arcy, but 90% of those who responded to a poll by the Bliss Tree blog asking readers how they felt about the ad said they were “inspired!”
“I love Nathan,” writes Hanna Brooks Olsen. “I hope he runs until he feels awesome about himself. I hope he inspires other kids to run.”
For its part, Nike says it will track Nathan’s progress.
Another ploy — supplying T-shirts that proclaim, “Greatness Has Been Found” to the victorious U.S. women’s soccer team — was “roundly panned on Twitter, from critics both foreign and domestic,” reports Chris Chase in a Yahoo Sports blog.
“Greatness has been found, but not humility. Gross,” the New York Times’ Ben Rothenberg tweeted. And SI.com’s Courtney Nguyen wrote: “Put those t-shirts away, USA. Keep it classy.”
No one was “blaming the women on the team” for the “smug, tacky slogan,” and Chase doesn’t blame Nike either, writing that the “go-betweens for Nike and Team USA … should have realized the way those shirts could have been perceived.”
Nike has been training as an Olympic ambusher for a long time, of course. During the 1984 summer games in Los Angeles, it ran ads of athletes with the Randy Newman song “I Love LA” as the soundtrack, Passikoff reminds us. “After the games, research found that consumers thought Nike was the official sponsor– not Converse, who was the official sponsor.”
The occasional Olympics exposure does not a brand loyalist make, however, and Brand Keys’ Customer Loyalty Engagement Index puts New Balance at the top of the pecking order, followed by Nike, Skechers, Brooks. Adidas, Reebok/Asics/Converse. Bringing up the rear in seventh place is Fila/Puma. Puma, which sponsored the Jamaican athletic team and its star sprinters Usain Bolt and Warren Weir, was a much more laid back presence at the games as befits is smaller marketing budget.
“Usain Bolt and the Jamaican team allow us to build a bridge between lifestyle and performance, a bridge they built themselves,” Puma’s head of international sports marketing, Christian Voigt, tells AFP’s Etienne Balmer. “The way of life in Jamaica, its music, its relaxed attitude, its style, its colors. This is also Puma’s spirit,” he says.
By the way, Procter & Gamble was the winner of Bloomberg’s “Alternate Olympic Medal Count” with 52. Visa took the silver with 26 and BMW won Bronze with 24. For what it’s worth — and that will probably be debated right up until the 2016 Games in Rio and beyond — Adidas was fourth with 21.
The Sport Intern in a blog produced by Karl-Heinz Huba in Lorsch, Germany. Mr. Huba can be reached via email at ISMG@aol.com. This article is reprinted here with the permission of Mr. Huba.