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Olympics--The Evolution of A Brand
More on Brand Image
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August 2012

Cropped 2011 head shotLazy, Hazy, Crazy Days


Yes, it's been quite hot and hazy here on the East Coast, which has led to widespread laziness, with a shot of craziness. That's why I punked out on a July newsletter. But no worries, dear readers, I'm back.


It has been a very busy Spring here at ADM, so I was looking forward to a relaxing summer, but we are now looking at several proposals, which hopefully won't take too much time away from vacations and staycations. No complaints, mind you! Hope you are having a great summer. Before you know it, the kids will be back at school, and we'll be planning for the final quarter of this year. Can you believe it!!!


The Evolution of A Brand      


When Baron de Coubertin started the modern Olympics movement in 1894, he envisioned a "pure" sports competition, unsullied by international politics or money. No professional athletes. Nice idea. It lasted a few years, but then the event grew, expanded, and the human propensity for competitiveness (notwithstanding Niall Ferguson's contention that it is a Western characteristic) took over. Clever people figured out how to get around the "professional" exclusion. They even figured out how to get around gender assignment and minimum age requirements. I won't even get into drugs and blood doping.


Politics began interfering as early as 1936 when Adolf Hitler refused to allow Marty Glickman (USA) to compete in Munich (Track & Field) that year. (Sadly, the International Olympic Committee chair, Avery Brundage, went along with Herr Hitler.) Thank goodness for Jesse Owens, who disproved the German notion of a "master race." Political intrusion got worse: boycotts in 1956 (Melbourne), murders in 1972 (Munich again), more boycotts in 1980 (Moscow) and 1984 (Los Angeles). 


While Brundage resisted corporate sponsorships (he didn't want to sully the purity of the Olympic brand with money, in spite of not minding it for racism) his successors encouraged it. Since the early 1970s, Olympic sponsorships have become a golden opportunity (no pun intended).  At this point, the value of the Olympic brand has exceeded that of Apple, Samsung, McDonald's, and other major supporters--$45 billion, according to a recent Brand Finance (London) study. There have even been controversies about brand: in 1992, Michael Jordan wrapped himself in the US flag on the medal platform in Barcelona, not out of patriotism, but to hide the Reebok logo on his uniform. Why? Nike was paying Jordan a great deal of money--not to mention the marketing of Air Jordan footwear--so it was understandable that they were in a bit of a snit over the possibility he might be shown wearing their competitor's logo.


Which brings me back to my sub-header. How has the Olympic brand evolved? Very much like humans have evolved--driven by the desire to win at all costs. As Vince Lombardi is often misquoted: Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing.


Really? Has that become the Olympic brand? I happen to know an Olympic athlete, and he seems to think that, at the upper echelons of the most visible sports (track & field, swimming, skiing, and some of the "ball" sports), it is quite true. He once told me that many athletes would take some kind of performance-enhancing substance (including blood doping) to win, even if it took 10 years off their lives. 


Regardless, we are all entranced by the efforts put out by these athletes--especially the ones in the less-well-known sports (I was watching skeet shooting yesterday! Amazing hand-eye coordination!). They train really hard for four years, and then put it all on the line. Maybe the Olympic brand is the effort as much as the result. And we watch. And that's why sponsors spend $45 billion to be connected with the Olympics.

More on Brand Image

Changing Old Attitudes


Shakespeare Shakespeare wrote: "The evil that men do lives after them. The good is oft interred with their bones." There is an analogy with brand image, lurking there. Lately, we have been working with organizations in various industries on how to change old attitudes about their brands without spending gazillions of dollars on advertising (as Cadillac and other major brands have done).


My mission is to figure out what the current image is, and in what direction it is best to move it. Here are some learnings.

  • Parents of high school juniors and seniors retain the images of area colleges from when they were looking at schools, 20 to 30 years ago. Their children, to whom most advertising is aimed, form images based on new programs, facilities, and "buzz."
  • The same can be said for banking and other "retail" or local brands--people retain old images longer than we'd like unless and until they need to interact with those product or service providers.
  • Changing logos and colors may signal a change in the brand, but don't usually impact the image, by themselves.
  • Consumers (and business customers for that matter) generally do not understand "marketing speak." They tend not to analyze what colors or logos mean. It is more important to gain recognition and connect the (old or new) logo with the brand, which is more easily done if the logo is unique (hard to do these days, but that's the creative challenge!).
  • Some attributes are "givens:" trust, knowledgeability, integrity. People expect them, and when they are disappointed, that negative image sticks. When they are not disappointed, it is taken for granted (see Shakespeare, above).
  • Brand attributes should be able to expand the knowledge and understanding of the brand, what it offers, what it stands for, and why people should remember it.
  • Brand attributes must be credible and demonstrable (see "trust", above).
  • Importantly, these brand attributes, along with the logo and colors, must become part of every single point of customer contact; from collateral materials (both digital and print) to call centers, customers must be informed about how the brand has grown or changed and given reasons to remember it.
Some marketers spend a good deal of time and money to craft brands but then do not get corporate support to implement the new brands all along the chain of customer contact points. It takes additional investment to retrain call centers, reprint stationary and collateral materials, and, in some cases, change signage. When these supporting activities are neglected or ignored, it effectively wastes the initial investment in changing or updating the brand. In other words (to use another cliche), penny wise and pound foolish.


Upcoming Events
August 16, 5:30 pm-7:30pm 


SMPS-LI is holding a "Hot Summer Night Networking Event" at the fabulous FOUR Food Studios, Broadhollow Road (Rte 110) and Baylis Road in Melville. Bring your business cards and a good appetite! I hope it's not too hot, so that everyone can meet and mingle outside on their redesigned deck area. RSVP to Elizabeth Kupcha, 
September 19, 11:30am-1:30pm
IABC/LI opens its 2012-13 "season" with a program on Google Plus: The good, the bad, and the ugly (that's a working title). The meeting will be at FOUR Food Studios, so check the website ( and this newsletter for more information and registration. 
Have a safe and pleasant August!
This practice is dedicated to helping companies become knowledge-driven, rather than assumption driven about strategic and tactical decisions concerning lines of business, branding, communications, and various marketing activities. For more information about how we do this, case studies, frequently asked questions about marketing research, and testimonials, please visit our web site:

Ann Middleman