Can an Olympic Sponsorship Really Help Your Image?

How a Brand's Standing Is Affected by Being in Beijing

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- For big brands, the Olympic Games have always been viewed as a major platform in terms of audience and exposure, and this year is no different. With a flailing economy haunting nearly every industry and shaky consumer confidence, corporate sponsors have almost as much at stake in Beijing as the athletes vying for gold.

Ad Age takes a look at some of the major marketers invested in the Olympics, their advertising strategies, and where they stand in the ever-elusive grid of consumer perception before entering the arena.

Any remnants of communism seemingly have been put on hold in China in favor of capitalist shilling. All told, 63 companies are either sponsors or partners of the Beijing Olympics, setting the stage for internal Olympic-related advertising to reach anywhere from $4 billion to $6 billion, according to CSM, a Beijing-based marketing research firm.

We love you, China
The China-themed campaigns of several global corporations decidedly pander to the host country's 1.3 billion populace. McDonald's, for example, has adapted its "I'm lovin' it" slogan by tacking on "when China wins." Nike's ads feature China's star hurdler, Liu Xiang, and other Chinese athletes trouncing their competition, and Adidas' "Together" spots, a top entry at June's Cannes Lions advertising festival, feature a veritable sea of China's citizens backing their athletes and displaying the might of the nation's athletic -- and purchasing -- force.

Companies are using the world stage to bolster their reputations at home as well. With 3,600 hours of Olympics coverage to be spread over the NBC Universal family of channels, not to mention the addition of live and on-demand online content at NBCOlympics.com, advertisers have set the table for an advertising feast and are banking their ubiquity during the coverage will be enough to get buyers to chow down.

In general, the official Olympic sponsors boast greater brand health and brand awareness, according to independent market research group YouGovPolimetrix, which is able to translate nebulous metrics such as "reputation" and "buzz" into concrete numbers.

YouGovPolimetrix takes a daily measure of public perception of more than 1,000 consumer brands across 40 sectors, measured on an eight-point profile, with data delivered the next day. Respondents are drawn from an online panel of more than 1 million individuals, with 5,000 people interviewed each weekday.

Feelings become numbers
Respondents are asked to rate a company based on: "Buzz," whether they've heard anything positive or negative about a brand; " Mindshare," a measure of recent awareness of a brand; "General Impression," whether consumers feel "generally positive" or "generally negative" about a brand; "Quality," whether consumers associate a brand with good- or poor-quality products; "Value," whether the brand is a good or poor value-for-money; "Satisfaction," whether they have recently been satisfied as a customer of the brand; "Recommend," whether they would recommend that a friend buy or avoid a brand; and "Corporate Reputation," which is determined by the response to the question, "Which of these brands would you be proud or embarrassed to work for?"

The company then assigns each brand an index score, which averages the responses to all of the above categories, except for "Buzz" and "Mindshare."

Coca-Cola's "corporate reputation" score last month, for example, was 47.4, but had risen to 49.8 in the week leading up to the games. The company was a leading spender at the 2004 games in Athens, dropping $91.6 million in advertising. Whether its investment contributed directly to its market share is up for debate. Last year, though, it managed to sell 24 billion bottles of its iconic pop in China alone.

Visa, another official sponsor, had a corporate reputation score of 20.2 the week leading up to the games. "Mindshare" had increased 2% in the run-up to the games, the highest increase among the sponsors analyzed here.

Consumer electronics brands Panasonic and Samsung are both sponsors, and were both up a similar number in the same time frame, with Samsung increasing its "Mindshare" 1% over the last month while the sector decreased by the same amount in that period.

In terms of buzz, General Electric (parent of NBC Universal) is so far the big winner, posting the largest overall increase over the last month. Its score rose from 9.4 for the month before the games to 14.4 for the week leading into the games. GE's reputation was 33.3, compared with the 15.5 average for the overall appliance sector.

In it for the long haul
Johnson & Johnson's ad campaign has its brand soaring, earning it a reputation score of 65.2, compared to the overall drug sector's 7.1. Eastern market experts such as Shaun Rein, founder and managing director of the China Market Research Group, believes high-investing companies such as Johnson & Johnson see the Beijing games as just the beginning of long-term marketing efforts in China, and won't be pulling back when the torch is put out Aug. 24.

Not all official sponsors are winning in this early stage, however. Lenovo, China's largest PC manufacturer, is flying low in American homes, earning a reputation score of just 0.23 in the week leading up to the games, compared to the computer-equipment sector average of 22.5. With its extremely low brand awareness, Lenovo decidedly has the most to gain with its Olympic sponsorship. Its competitor and fellow sponsor Kodak had a corporate reputation score of 46.6 in the week leading into the games.

McDonald's, though down in consumer approval (swimming at -24.1 in corporate reputation the month before the games, compared to the fast-food industry's generally blubbering ratings of -8.9), did manage to grab a 49% rating in "Mindshare" in the week leading up to the game.

Ad Age plans to check back in after the Olympics to see how the marketers' presence at the Beijing Games has affected their reputation and buzz.

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