Cannes 2012

Takeaways from a Cannes Panel Starring Visa, the IOC and Nadia Comaneci

Think Local as Well as Global, Treat Your Sponsorships Like a Marriage

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With the 2012 Olympics just weeks away, one of its major sponsors, Visa, addressed its 25-year sponsorship of the event at the Cannes ad festival. Ad Age Agency Editor Rupal Parekh moderated the panel, which featured one of the stars of the financial-services provider's TBWA/Chiat/Day-created "Go World" campaign, gymnast and gold-medal winner Nadia Comaneci.

Ms. Comaneci was the first gymnast to score a perfect 10 on a routine, and she shared how she didn't even realize at first what she had done. After dismounting, she glanced at the score board and saw a 1.00 -- the score boards at the time weren't capable of displaying 10. When she saw that 1.00, she recalls looking at her teammates and thinking: "That's not a very good score, is it?" She would shortly find out she made Olympic history.

Along with Ms. Comaneci's memories, the panel shared several marketing takeaways. Here are four.

Sponsors fund half the games. Timo Lumme, managing director of TV and marketing services for the International Olympic Committee, could not stress enough the importance of partners like Visa during the Olympics. He said that half the games' operational budget comes from sponsors, which also enable some athletes to take part. "We could not hold the Olympic games without the help of partners," he said.

Visa has been a major sponsor of the games for 25 years and a relationship with that longevity works if you treat it like a marriage, said Mr. Lumme. "When you're dating, what do you look for in a partner?" he asked. "A deep relationship and understanding each other. After 25 years, that 's what we've achieved with Visa; they take our brand, which we trust them with, and do marketing campaigns that reach out people."

When it comes to Olympics, think local as well as global. Visa's business is both global and local, said Antonio Lucio, global chief marketing, strategy and corporate development officer for Visa, which powers credit cards and e-commerce that require global acceptance, but also looks to gain market share from cash, which is local. The "Go World" campaign is designed tell stories of the universal theme of human achievement. The spots are in black and white so you didn't see flag or team colors, only "human spirit," said Patrick O'Neill, executive creative officer for TBWACHIATDAY Los Angeles. "The idea was not to see the barriers that separate us."

The athletes featured in the spots bring in a local element: Michael Phelps will get great rotation in the U.S., for example, and Ms. Comaneci in Russia or her home country of Romania.

Agencies need to fight to keep the essence of their ideas. When TBWA presented "Go World" -- at that time dubbed "Go Humans" -- to Mr. Lucio, the CMO and TBWA's iconic creative force Lee Clow butted heads.

"We had a lot of fights over this campaign. That's the heart of who Lee Clow is . I feel privileged to work with him," Mr. Lucio said. The campaign was emotional, but Mr. Lucio wanted a more rational approach. At the time, he recalls Mr. Clow saying: "You are going to make a mistake if you strip this campaign of its essence." That's the kind of gumption agencies need, Mr. Lucio said.

"What the client needs is for creative to love your brand so much that they're willing to step up and tell you you're messing up the sanctity of the idea," he said. "Sometimes the client is wrong and you guys need to fight for it."

The games have adapted to changing media. The Olympic games were first televised during the 1960 summer games in Rome. The International Olympic Committee's then-president fought with TV companies over the rights. Mr. Lumme said that at the time the games' president shunned TV, saying: "'We've done very well without TV for the past 60 years and will do well without TV for the next 60.' He couldn't have been more wrong."

This year is said to be the most social Olympics. Visa with its agencies TBWA, Atmosphere Proximity and MRY, formerly known as Mr. Youth, will be launching a platform to record and store fans cheering and supporting athletes via text and video in one internet place. The Go World app lets fans from any country cheer on individual athletes and message them through text or video. The platform has 9.2 million cheers as of now, with entries from the U.S., Brazil and Russia in the lead.

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