IOC marketing director on how the Olympics delay changed its messaging
When Christopher Carroll joined the International Olympic Committee as its marketing and digital engagement and director late last year, he figured he did not have much time to get ready for the Tokyo games—and undertook what he describes as a “speedy onboarding.” As it turned out, Carroll had more time than he originally thought after the IOC made the decision in late March to delay the Summer Olympics by a year in response to the coronavirus.
But Carroll did not take a break. Instead, the IOC launched several campaigns meant to keep the games top of mind with fans and sponsors until the opening ceremonies on July 23, 2021. “We were confronted with the reality of we need to speak to people now, we need to engage with people now, right here...that gave birth, for us, to do real-time marketing,” Carroll says.
Carroll, who joined IOC after holding marketing roles at Under Armor, Heineken and Coca-Cola Co., discusses the organization’s latest moves on the newest edition of Ad Age’s Ad Lib podcast. Earlier this week, on the one-year-to-go mark for the games—which are still called Tokyo 2020—the IOC launched a campaign called “Stronger Together.” It uses a unifying message at a time when the world is divided, both politically and physically, with global travel still at a near-standstill during the pandemic.
The IOC is also running a Twitter campaign featuring historical Olympic flame lightings.
The “Stronger Together” ad was handled in-house. It is meant to “remind people that our overall mission is to make life a little bit better through the promotion of sport—and that there is at this time of challenge, regardless of where you are and who you are, that next year when the word congregates in Tokyo Japan, we will be united and we will be stronger together,” Carroll says.
Of course, at the moment, there is not even unity inside Japan about holding the games, as safety concerns persist during the coronavirus outbreak. A poll by Kyodo News cited by Reuters shows fewer than a quarter of respondents in favor of holding the Olympics as scheduled, which the news organization notes is a sharp drop from previous pre-pandemic support.
On the podcast, Carroll expresses confidence that the games will go forward—but he indicates that the IOC is right-sizing the event for the times: “The world is in a different place, so we have to consider reducing the impact of the costs...we need to simplify and reduce the complexity of the games so we can make sure it can happen safely.” He adds: “It is an Olympic challenge, clearly, but we are fully prepared to do so in a responsible and appropriate way.”
One key sponsor remains bullish: Procter & Gamble Co. earlier this week extended its deal with the IOC for the next four Olympic and Paralympic Games, through 2028, when the games will be held in Los Angeles.
Carroll also addresses the challenges of dealing with a condensed schedule: Tokyo finishes on Aug. 8 next year, with the Winter Olympics in Beijing starting less than a year later on Feb 4, 2022.
Says Carroll: “Essentially we have to simultaneously plan for the delivery of two Olympic games.”