Sponsor activations not in the spotlight at Rio

There are 12 major sponsor partners of the Olympic Games. Compared to other major events and leagues, it is actually very few. It was, of course, designed this way. The Olympics carries a special prestige and only top companies that can afford the hefty fee are even considered for a partnership. We won’t see the official burrito sponsor of the Olympic Games any time soon. With so few partners and such a high sponsorship fee, one could expect that the sponsors would be all over the television with signage and experiential marketing being shown consistently. That hasn’t happened, and it’s for a few reasons.

First, the Olympic Games — even though it is totally about the money — considers itself not being about money and commercialization. Therefore, there isn’t much signage or branding on the field of play. The basketball court is essentially devoid of branding marks outside of the Rio Olympic logo. NBC and the IOC have essentially played down the level of sponsorship.

That’s fine because of the IOC’s Rule 40. It’s more difficult for a competitor to launch guerrilla marketing campaigns, and therefore official sponsors seem to be at ease. The official sponsors know they won’t really have to deal with competitors stealing attention. Those companies trust the IOC and know that even though sponsors activations aren’t covered or their signage isn’t prominent, they still get the brand association with the Olympic Games.

It’s led to some interesting decisions. For example, Coca-Cola’s main hub — the Coca-Cola Center — is not located downtown with most tourist traffic. It is in the corner of suburban Olympic Park, and according to the Sports Business Daily, it is one of the more successful activations. It has strong foot traffic, but very little coverage. NBC hasn’t done any vignettes or stories about the center. The definition of success is different for every company and every activation. Coca-Cola probably feels good about it;s experiential marketing campaign.

It makes everyone reconsider the definition of a successful activation. Companies such as State Farm were so embedded in the NBA All-Star Game, Chris Paul once dressed up as Cliff Paul — his insurance salesman alter-ego — on TNT’s coverage. It wasn’t a commercial. It was live TV coverage being interviewed by a TNT personality. The Olympics obviously wouldn’t dare allow something like this, but if viewers don’t know about a partner, the companies aren’t receiving fair marketing return on their investment.