Marketing Strategy / Opinion

The 2012 Olympics sized soap opera


When the Archers was conceived in 1951, it was designed to help Britain’s farmers back on their feet through accessible dissemination of information.

Somehow, LOCOG and the BBC have managed to pull off a similar stunt – but did anyone notice?

Let’s face it, the London 2012 Olympics seems to have been a long time coming.  Ever since we were told that we’d got the Games, frantic preparation has ensued to try and make sure that London was ready for the eyes of the world.

But with this long tail comes a drop off in public interest.  How do you keep people engaged for years and still whip them up into a frenzy when the Big Day arrives?

LOCOG pulled a content marketing blinder here, in collusion with the BBC. 

Take the Twenty Twelve ‘sitcom’, for example.  If you haven’t seen it, it’s basically a fictionalised, self-deprecating look at what may, or may not, have been going on behind the doors of LOCOG Towers.

Less biting satire, more “Oh yeah, I bet that the sustainability/branding people are just like that!”.  Here’s the BBC trailer, and for the purposes of this post, I want you to pay attention to the ‘Infrastructure’ section that begins at 1:00.

If you didn’t watch the show, you won’t know that the character is talking about rephasing all of the traffic lights in London to make sure that the Olympic athletes and officials can get about smoothly.

With that in mind, let me show you this picture I grabbed from the Olympic special edition of Absolutely Fabulous:

You see the ad on the back of Patsy’s fictional Match magazine?  Yup, it’s Samsung, one of the official Olympics Sponsors (all references to non-sponsor brands such as Bollinger or Stolichnaya were absent from the episode).

Content marketing at its finest?

The piece of Twenty Twelve I referenced above slapped me between the eyes when news sources announced the first day of altered traffic signal timings across London.

Granted, I’m not a Londoner, but my first thought wasn’t one of despair.  It was a friendly recollection of the Twenty Twelve sketch.

Any potential sting, in other words, had been removed and replaced by a completely different – positive – emotion.  For a few weeks, the show almost became a water cooler moment.

Patsy’s magazine, meanwhile, was an obvious official Sponsor plug (held, as it was, at an unnatural angle for quite a long period of time), helping to reinforce just who one of the sponsors are and what product of theirs you should be buying.

LOCOG co-opted the BBC into their PR machine years ago, and I think it worked.

OK there have been some huge balls-ups which have tarnished the Games.  Cracking down on sausage rings and school sports days etc is just pathetic and bad brand management – especially now the Brand Police seem to have given up and it’s Olympic Rings Cup Cakes as far as the eye can see in certain bakeries.

However, by looking at the preparation for the Games through a content marketing lens, and devising work such as Twenty Twelve to subliminally prepare us for everything to go wrong (but to go right on the night) in a multi-billion pound infrastructure project, LOCOG created one of the most subtle soap operas I can remember in recent times.

Looking at the grand scale, the way that key touchpoints were interwoven through news, TV ‘drama’, interviews and other outlets, the open-ended narrative of the Games with its twisting plot points and love-to-hate characters is the soap opera for our times.

But it’s strange to think that, in 2012, with the technological landscape that we all navigate, this subtle piece of content market genius owes its roots to a Government backed radio show a generation ago.

Technology change. Tactics evolve. But good ideas stand the test of time.

Neil Hopkins is a Marketing and Branding Theorist at heart, and a Marketing Communications Manager by day. His blog – interacter – is the primary location he shares insight and information relating to marketing, branding and advertising strategy.
You can follow Neil on Twitter, circle him (like an escaped bull) on Google+ or track him down in any number of other ways.

Featured image for this post comes from M@R@K on Flickr.

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