Brand Strategy / Marketing Strategy / Opinion

1 thing LOCOG got badly wrong (and what they should have done instead)

Yesterday, I discussed how LOCOG pulled a content marketing blinder (in collusion with the BBC) for the London 2012 Olympic Games.

Today, I’m going to lay out their biggest mistake, why it happened and what they should have done to avoid it.

The issue:

If you’ve been following the Olympic coverage, you can’t fail to have noticed the outcry over the Brand Police telling individuals and businesses what they can’t do.  Sausages, florists, bagels, dolls and shop front Union Jacks have all been given their marching orders.

Amongst many other outlets, Mumsnet is enraged (and you dare not piss off British mothers.  They’re a formidable lot).

This level of brand crackdown has created huge amounts of headlines, social outrage and bad feeling amongst sections of the population.

The reason:

LOCOG has been protecting the ‘rights of its sponsors’ with fearsome intensity.  Earlier in the year, I wrote a piece aiming to signpost all of the different guideline documents that exist – and they’re all deathly dull (and nearly impenetrable).

I believe that the reason for this enormous crackdown and show of force is fear.

I sincerely believe that LOCOG, having worked hard to secure the Olympics and then raise a ton of cash, were terrified that things might get out of hand and that their precious sponsors might pull out if someone waved so much as a “We’re Supporting The Games” paper hand flag.

This fear led to a deep mistrust of everyone – including the general public who are meant to be the Games’ biggest supporters.

It is one thing to stop Paddy Power ambushing itself into the headlines (that worked really well, didn’t it?) or Nike from capitalising on the sense of achievement/personal drive that the Olympics is trying to instill; it’s quite another to hammer small local firms or individuals who just want to get into the spirit of things.

Are the general public so stupid as to believe that a baker is an official Olympic Sponsor because there are some (probably going-off) bagels in the shape of Olympic rings in the window?

Common sense says no.  Fear, that part of the lizard brain Seth Godin loves to talk about, says yes – and reacts accordingly.

The problem:

LOCOG missed a key element in their marketing understanding – people and communities.

As I’ve mentioned their Guideline documents are long, and nearly impenetrable.  People – real people, Mrs Tompkins next door and the local baker – aren’t going to read them.

Real people don’t care about protection of copyright, the symbology of the Games, the need to protect the rights of sponsors.

What real people and communities care about is painting their faces the colour of their favourite team, putting on a Tshirt proclaiming their tribal allegiance and standing on the street screaming with passion when the gold medal goes to the right person.

Real people care about Getting Involved – and being seen to be getting involved.  If they want to be involved with the Olympics, to express their heartfelt pride, they want to wear a Tshirt with the five rings. Or they want to put up a poster in their window saying that they “Support the Games”.

By concentrating on banning just about everything, LOCOG created a problem whereby the community was disconnected with the very thing that they wanted to support.

What the solution should have been:

This is remarkably simple.

Scrap all of the lengthy, boring, unreadable documents that set out what you can’t do (with so many pictures of the icons that you can’t use that they become embedded in your brain).

Produce something short, sweet and simple that says two things:

1) This is what you can’t do (and short reasons why not)

2) But this is what you CAN do.

Present the opportunity to the community, and they’ll take that.  If you tell people what they can’t do, this introduces a raft of negative and/or defensive cognitive processes that allow them to do exactly what you don’t want them to be doing, but without feeling bad about it.

Looking at today, their ‘Join In’ section contains absolutely nothing that tells me (as a real person) what flags, banners or posters I may wave in my forthcoming street parties.  It doesn’t give me anything to put in my window, iron onto a Tshirt, any way at all (in other words) to show my support for the Games without breaking some mysterious rule that (as a real person) I will neither have read nor care about.

What LOCOG should have done is take a leaf from Children In Need’s playbook – just look at all the the awesome downloadable stuff they’ve got to help people get involved.

Imagine if the official London 2012 designers had uploaded posters for you to print at home, given you ideas for how to make non-brand-breaching cupcakes and so on.

What would that have done for public enthusiasm and engagement?  I predict that it would have skyrocketed and been sustained.

The conclusion:

LOCOG’s short-sightedness and lack of understanding about basic human behaviour has cost them dear in some quarters.

Other people won’t care.  Some people will think that it’s a typically British reaction because it’s so unusual for us to get anything important that we over-react to protect it.

But I bet that all of the real people and businesses who fell foul of the rules (or wore the wrong Tshirt) will remember those perceived injustices for a very, very long time.

And that’s bad for the Games.  But, even more importantly, it’s bad for the sponsors who shelled out billions and are now being seen as over-bearing bully boys.

Finally, the moral of the story is:

Don’t tell people what they mustn’t do in isolation.  If you prohibit one thing, give them two ideas for something that they can do.

Otherwise you’ll kill passion, enthusiasm and engagement.

And I’m sure you’ll agree that this principle is as valid for your own internal brand communications as it is for the global passion-play that is the London 2012 Olympic Games…

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.

The awesome featured images comes from TRF_Mr_Hyde’s Flickr photostream


3 thoughts on “1 thing LOCOG got badly wrong (and what they should have done instead)

  1. Given the over-zealous crackdown on everyday people, it seems bizarre that the athletes themselves have escaped the branding police, most notably the swimmers, who all come sauntering into the pool area with massive. branded ‘Beats by Dre’ headphones…

    But I agree with your point 100%. Working collaboratively with people to foster a fantastic, shared experience is surely the purpose of effective sponsorship rather than running a militaristic regime based upon branding crackdown. If brands are investing such huge sums in the Olympics, why not work with people to create a positive experience for all rather than a negative brand policing exercise.

    The Olympics is about humans at the top of their fitness performing in peace and friendship, with the world coming together in the same spirit to watch and enjoy the games. THIS is the Olympic spirit – and one that sponsors should have embraced.

  2. Simple point excellently made. Rules are infinitely less antagonizing when dispensed with clear alternatives. I (partially) understand the LOCOG point but then provide us ways to not incur their wrath.

    I have a feeling we’ll both be writing sequels to our Olympics blogs when the dust settles.

    Nice one mate.

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