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The Olympics 2016: How Can Brands Connect with Trend-Aware Consumers?

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With a major global sporting event around the corner, brands are keen to engage the millions of viewers globally who will be glued to screens, portable and big, often simultaneously, for the Rio Olympics.

This year’s Olympics have already been dubbed the ‘Smartphone Olympics' as many younger digital native consumers in particular are expected to view the August competitions on mobile devices.

Savvy marketers are also aware that engaged audiences will expand beyond the typical sports fan and that this is one of just a few positive large-scale media events that capture the attention of consumers across demographics and ages. Even sharing economy trends are represented in Rio. Airbnb signed an agreement in March to become the official provider of alternative lodging during the event.

Ad campaigns, notably from luxury labels, have also already shown themselves keenly aware of the value of authenticity as a way to move consumers to develop an emotional bond with brands, even if purchases remain aspirational.

Wearable Electronics - Girl running

The Rio Olympics come at a moment when consumers worldwide are signifying that wellbeing matters in their lives by looking ‘workout-ready’ even if not gym-bound. This interest in athleisure means that increased consumer purchasing of sporty apparel at this time is very likely, and has led the creative director at Lacoste, outfitting the French team this year and one of a roll call of designers engaged to inject glamour into athletic attire, to call this Olympic season the longest fashion season.

The International Olympic Committee’s stringent advertising rules have been relaxed somewhat for Rio 2016, opening the door for more brands to benefit from their ties to the competitions, even if they aren't official Olympic sponsors. This has spurred more creative efforts to associate brand campaigns with The Olympics in the minds of consumers. The wisdom of doing so has been backed by a recent poll of 1,000 UK consumers from tech firm RadiumOne. Asking about brand associations in sport, it revealed that six of the top 10 brands most associated with Euro 2016 weren’t even sponsors of the tournament.

For more on consumers, the Olympics, and sports entertainment, please look out for our forthcoming strategy briefing: Sports Fandom Culture

The ‘Smartphone Olympics

In what has already been dubbed the ‘Smartphone Olympics’ sports fans are set to have one eye on the TV screen, and the other on their mobile devices when following the August competitions. With 42 events set to overlap, more consumers will feel compelled to use their smartphones and tablets to check out scores, world records and other developments in real time. In these Rio Olympics, any brand thinking about offering mobile solutions must be driven by real-time results. A sports shoe brand, for instance, will be looking for stories on shoe malfunctions hampering sporting success. It can then target mobile/desktop searches for multiple variations of what consumers’ might be searching for – such as “running shoe accident”, and use ad copy or images to appeal to consumers. They could also be done across multiple digital channels such as Yahoo, Facebook ads and Instagram.

As The Olympics will focus the world’s attention on mobile digital apps, global media outlets are customizing their offerings to increase viewing of TV coverage. For instance, SportTV, a brand owned by Globo, the largest media company in Latin America, is launching an app that will alert users in advance of events and when their favourite athletes feature. Creative ad campaigns include one from Telstra, Australia’s biggest telco player, urging consumers to ‘Go to Rio’ with an ad promoting their ‘Olympics on 7’ app.

Apps focused on hospitality, transport, eating out and entertainment are also aiming to assist the 380,000 tourists expected to land in Rio de Janeiro during the Olympics.

Ad agency Rubicom has been working with brands who aren’t official sponsors or paying for major TV spots to create a presence on the ‘second screen’. Its Rubicon Project has just shared interesting findings from a new survey of over a 1,000 sports fans supporting the view that the shift in how consumers engage with content is making the 2016 Olympics the first “anytime, anywhere” Olympics. Significantly:

  • 79% of millennials plan to watch the Olympics live online
  • 7 out of 10 plan to watch on their mobile device, advancing the “always on” evolution of today’s fans
  • 8 out of 10 millennials will have a second screen open “most of the time” they watch the Olympics, consuming content related to what is on the television
  • 57% of Olympic Followers have an annual household income above US$50K (vs. 32% Non-Followers)

The allure of the authentic in sports marketing

Authenticity in brand messages and campaigns holds appeal for consumers globally. While Olympians are aiming for a place on a pedestal, brands are aware that Olympic marketing campaigns should be relatable. While an Olympic medal remains out of reach for most, all can relate to Olympic values such as the pursuit of excellence, teamwork and dedication.

A good way to woo consumers turned off by traditional advertising but used to seeing authenticity online is to incorporate actual images shared by users of a brand and using them to build links with existing and potential customers. Luxury companies such as accessories brand Coach in a recent footwear campaign and US hotel and resorts brand Loews in its #TravelForReal campaign have effectively built user-generated images into recent campaigns, making views feel part of the part of the high-end world.

An awareness of the value of authenticity seems to colour the choice and approach regarding sports celebrities in brand campaigns. History has shown that athletes can sell products and importantly can create connections between brands and consumers but authenticity is increasingly emphasised, (despite the risks of scandal-prone sports stars letting brands down). Mr. Mille, the luxury contemporary watchmaker, insists that his ambassadors don’t merely appear in campaigns, but wear the watches while they play. This belief has led the brand to adapt timepieces, with the involvement of athletes, to be light enough to not obstruct Rafael Nadal on the tennis court, and resistant enough for the G-force of Felipe Massa’s Formula 1 car. Just 50 of Mr. Nadal’s US$775,000 watch, the RM 27-02, were for sale and they were bought up immediately. Brand strategists also feel that they can tell their story when featuring sports stars in marketing in a more authentic way in the digital sphere compared to traditional media. As an example, it was reported that fans and “influencers” generated 78% of the social media buzz surrounding the Nadal introduction, while just 22% came from the brand.

The extent to which authenticity in campaigns can resonate with consumers in luxury campaigns for items that remain out of reach of most consumers has been the subject of debate. Various luxury brands have justified targeting mass-market sports consumers with the reasoning that they can build awareness of a luxury name in the minds of these consumers, many of whom are set to be upwardly mobile as the middle class expands.

Fashionable athleisure to drive interest, purchasing

In terms of apparel and fashion influence, the 2016 Olympics are likely to be greeted by a very receptive consumer base due to the current global popularity of athleisure. This interest sees consumers leading their lives looking workout-ready even if not gym-bound. It echoes the consumer embrace of a holistic attitude towards optimal physical and mental health and is already occupying more retail floor space as well as space in consumer wardrobes. As consumers look up to fitness, commentators observe, workout gear becomes equated with style, communicating to everyone that wearers consider health and wellness to be a key part of their lives. This clothing and footwear is worn on the streets, in restaurants, when shopping, at social occasions and on the catwalk (Spring/Summer 2016 collections from Chloe and Valentino feature tracksuits, for instance). It can also be seen on the way to and at work, sparing workers the need to carry extra gym outfits to the office and driving a trend for high-end gym wear.

Athleisure is a global hit. In China, as luxury goods have become less accessible to the growing middle class, in part due to last year’s anti-extravagance campaign, the tastes of the elite have also shifted away from visibly branded goods in favour of quality, newness and lifestyle. This shift sees Chinese consumers spending on sportswear, quality athletic clothes and accessories – with an emphasis on wellness and a healthy lifestyle. Reuters recently reported that GPS watches, hydration packs and compression leggings are the new must-haves for wealthy Chinese. Euromonitor data shows that the sportswear market in China grew to US$25 billion in 2015, and is forecast to grow to US$40 billion in real terms by 2020.

As has been seen in recent Olympic events, most notably in 2012, a bevy of fashion designers working for labels including Giorgio Armani, Prada, Hermès, Stella McCartney and Ralph Lauren, have been engaged by countries to inject fashion into all aspects of the events from competition to opening ceremonies. Aware that the attention of fashionistas will be focused on Olympics apparel, Felipe Oliveira Baptista, creative director of Lacoste and designer of outfits for the French team calls the Olympic season “the longest season in fashion”.

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