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For all the bad press NBC got for its sappy profiles of the Olympic athletes, the network has done marketers a tre-mendous service.

"I think there will be more endorsement deals than there have been in the past," Ron Bess, president of Foote, Cone & Belding, Chicago, told our family newspaper. "NBC's coverage gave us more of a relationship with these people, and there are a lot of wonderful stories."

NBC reminded us of an important marketing lesson. Before you can build a brand, whether it's an Olympic athlete or a box of cereal, the product has to mean something to consumers. NBC's phenomenal ratings for the Olympics came partly because it succeeded in humanizing a number of athletes and made us want to follow their success-and failure.

Although sports purists were outraged that NBC was less than candid in not disclosing that most of the events it brought us were on tape, network brass understood that sports is not news; it's entertainment and, more than that, marketing.

Its job was not to bring us every result as soon as it happened. Its job was to build interest and drama in the unfolding panorama of the Olympic Games.

Objective journalism? You've got to be kidding! Media critics may have panned John Tesh, but he was doing exactly what NBC wanted him to do- build interest in the gymnastics line extension of the Olympic brand. And millions of people-especially wom-en, the target market-bought the product and then repeated their purchase night after night.

NBC might have also showed us the way to telecast baseball games. Instead of covering every interminable minute, the producers neatly summarized the action in little more than a sound bite. But you got the gist of what happened without enduring the agony of watching every last pitch.

In fact, just about every event was summarized, except for the gymnastics routines and track finals (which were quickly over anyway). The perfect event for NBC was the 100 meter dash, with the camera zooming down a track abreast of the runners. Or even better, the 2-second duration of platform diving, with the TV camera descending alongside the diver into the water. That, to me, is a short story well told.

For my money, I found the women's basketball finals much more exciting than watching the Dream Team wear down Yugoslavia. Maybe it was because the Dream Team was performing in Atlanta at the same time the players' agents were exacting huge mountains of money for their free-agent clients, especially Shaquille O'Neal. NBC's ratings in Orlando, I'm sure, plummeted when it showed the Dream Team. An Orlando newspaper columnist complained bitterly that Shaq "played us all for fools" in forsaking the Magic for the Los Angeles Lakers.

Finally, am I over-reacting to all the commercialism, or did anyone else notice the startling resemblance between the Olympic track team's oval logo and the one for McDonald's Arch Deluxe?

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