Olympics eyes $150 mil in image ads

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The International Olympic Committee is formulating its most ambitious branding campaign ever, a global effort valued at $150 million to promote the 2000 Summer Games.

At the same time, the IOC will seek to impose stricter creative standards on Olympic sponsors to avoid consumer perception that the Games are overcommercialized.

"We can no longer afford to be hands-off," said IOC Director of Marketing Michael Payne. "There are lessons to learn from the corporate world. We decided to ratchet up our professional approach."


Meridian Management, Atlanta, the IOC's marketing representative, will draw up a list of creative agencies by the end of the first quarter that will be invited to pitch for the assignment. Virtually all of the media time for the campaign has already been negotiated through deals the IOC has made with broadcasters airing the Games in each country. The IOC also has print deals with publishing partners such as Time Inc.

The plan to polish the image of the Olympics and its sponsors comes as the IOC's own reputation for fairness and integrity is being called into question. A scandal is currently unfolding in which officials from the Salt Lake City Olympic organizing committee have acknowledged more than $400,000 in college scholarships, gifts and free cosmetic surgery were given to some IOC members to help Salt Lake City win the rights to host the 2002 Winter Games.

"The issues are not connected," said Mr. Payne. "We have established that some of the rumors are true, and we have taken steps, including the expulsion of some IOC members." Mr. Payne said the brand strategy was in the works long before the scandal was uncovered.


The scope of the planned branding effort supporting the Games in Sydney is "an indication about how this sport is evolving," said Mr. Payne. Just $25 million was spent on Olympic branding messages during the Atlanta Summer Games three years ago, he said.

In addition to more marketing of the Games, the IOC now also wants a say in the way sponsors incorporate Olympic ideals, such as unity and fair play, into ad messages. Currently, IOC ad guidelines mostly are concerned with the size and placement of Olympic rings.

"The days of just sticking the Olympic rings on products and calling it the `Olympic widget' are over," said Mr. Payne. "Without being bureaucratic, we would say to sponsors, `You have made a major investment, we want to make sure the investment works. If you don't, you may completely miss the boat with what the public wants.'"


He cited an IBM Corp. ad from last year's Winter Games as a good example of incorporating Olympic ideals in commercial messages. The spot profiled a luger from Bermuda, who said that viewers probably wouldn't see him on TV because he would not be a top contender. But he said people in his hometown would be able to track his performance by logging on to the Olympic Web site created by IBM.

Meridian recently conducted a "brand assessment" for the IOC, examining consumer attitudes toward commercialism of the Games, as well as how the Olympics are perceived compared to other big-name entertainment venues and companies. "We went out to define the Olympic world from the commercial perspective," said Terrence Burns, senior VP-marketing resources for Meridian.

These results showed 79% of respondents agreed "Olympic sponsors should link their advertising and promotion with Olympic ideals, not just their products and services." Another 76% said they "would be more supportive of Olympic sponsors if they made it clear they were helping to fund the Olympic Games," while 43% said the "Olympics seem to have lost their original ideals."

Copyright January 1999, Crain Communications Inc.

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