Public Train Logo-Wrapping Strategy Pays Off

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NEW YORK ( -- Even as the Olympics brand police slapped duct tape over brand logos of non-sponsors, Target’s telltale red-and-white bull’s-eyes blazed on trains that took spectators to ski and snowboard hills, inspiring some charged-up Europeans -- most of whom have never heard of the cheap-chic retailer -- to chant, “Target, Target,” from the platform.

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Target's train strategy made its brand campaign a constant presence in the Olympics village even as it eluded the International Olympics Committee advertising restrictions.
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Tough Rules and Duct Tape Used to Enforce IOC Marketing Rights

The Minneapolis-based retailer wrapped seven of the nine trains on the Bardonecchia line, which headed to the site of the snowboard half-pipe, snowboard cross and giant slalom competitions as well as athlete housing. (The destinations make sense: Target is a supporter of several winter X Games athletes, including freeskier Simon Dumont and Olympic snowboarder Shaun White.)

The exteriors featured colossal images of speed skaters and bobsledders wearing red uniforms with the bull’s-eye logo. Young, good-looking Italians welcomed riders aboard the “Target Express” in both English and Italian and handed out bull’s-eye branded pins, inflatable thundersticks and noisemakers. None of the handouts sport the five-ring Olympic logo or the word Target.

No European plans
And while the retailer has no plans to open a European location, its Olympics appearance was a non-traditional way to build brand affinity among the hordes of media and other key influencers -- and reap some incremental media exposure. While many times the non-official sponsors go unnoticed, the Target Express appeared in local news programs and NBC’s “Today Show.” Target also bought ad time on NBC’s Olympic coverage.

“They’re at the Olympics and you can’t deny the scope and scale,” said Jeff Swystun, global director of Omnicom Group’s branding agency Interbrand. “If you’re there, you’re really everywhere in terms of media exposure.”

Marketers have a long history of sneaking their way into the Olympics. Nike is perhaps the shrewdest of them all: In 1996, it bought up billboards surrounding Atlanta. In 2000, Fila spent $2 million renting out a ship docked in Sydney harbor. But this year the IOC has been especially stringent, forcing athletes to cover logos of non-sponsor apparel makers and slapping duct tape over Dell logos on journalists’ laptops.

Jerry Welsh, a marketing consultant who has written extensively about so-called ambush marketing, thinks Target’s move is clever. “There’s nothing unfair about it,” he said. “They’re not saying they’re an Olympic sponsor, they’re not using the rings. As far as I’m concerned it’s great marketing.”

Pulling it off
So how did Target pull it off? Through its media agency Haworth, the retailer began searching last summer for ways it could have a presence in the Winter Olympics. Since it wasn’t an Olympic Partner -- one of those who shelled out $75 million to the IOC for the right to use the five-ring Olympic logo during the Turin and Beijing games -- it wasn’t allowed into Olympic Village. And the Turin Olympic Committee, or TOROC, was claiming ownership of all the area’s outdoor media, reserving it for its official sponsors.

But in late November, CBS Outdoor, which sells advertising on Trenitalia, got the unsold inventory back and Target, which had been talking to CBS Outdoor for months, jumped. Even then, it was tricky.

“Target knew it was able to score a presence on the train, but the transit authority hadn’t finalized how they would be conducting and operating to handle the traffic and all the people,” said Brigg Hyland, senior VP-new business development at CBS Outdoor.

Schedules changed throughout December and the week before Christmas word came down that the IOC hadn’t approved Target’s creative, claiming it blurred the lines between the Olympics and commercialism. CBS appealed and was allowed to move forth; lucky for Target, there was precedent -- four years earlier the IOC had approved the same images to run on billboards around the Salt Lake City metro area.

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