Below-the-radar Marketing at the Summer Olympic Games

Check out any social media site, news outlet or blog right now, and chances are there will be news about the Summer Olympics. This year’s Games, billed as the “Socialympics” for its integration with social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, are the talk of the world. There is a lot of desire to be able to get one’s company or brand associated with the Games, and it’s no secret that advertising and sponsorship at the Olympic games is a pretty costly endeavor (McDonalds, British Airways and Coca-Cola collectively paid $1 billion for the pleasure).

While not all levels of sponsorship are so costly, most businesses still lack the available cash to support that level of advertising. So what should companies do if they want a cheaper way to show off at the Olympics? By most reports- forgo the high sponsorship and take part in some old-fashioned guerrilla marketing.
Nick Symmonds shows off his temporary tattoo for sponsor, Hansen Dodge

These guerrilla marketing tactics are nothing new at the Games (remember British sprinter Linford Christie’s Puma-branded contact lenses in Atlanta in 1996?) but it appears to be even more pervasive this year. Currently, more than half of the top 50 brands associated with the Olympics are not even sponsors.

While the money is rolling in for the Olympic committee, athletes are complaining that the dividends don’t seem to be trickling down their way, and many are happy to support “unofficial sponsors.” Several British athletes are taking part in a Subway campaign, commercials for which appear at every break in online streaming content on the NBC Olympics website. And Nick Symmonds, a middle-distance runner competing in the upcoming games, auctioned off the real estate on his deltoid on eBay. Symmonds is now sporting a temporary tattoo with the winning bidder’s logo and company name during the games.

Shops in London are getting in on the game as well – one image that’s gone viral is a shop that purposely misspelled “London Olympics.”
A store front window advertising apparel using the spelling "Olympycs"

These outside-of-the-box tactics will be under heavy scrutiny from the London Organizing Committee of the Olympic Games, who have carte blanche to discontinue anything that they feelis infringing upon official sponsors or the intellectual property of the games. However, most and smart and clever marketers will use this opportunity to make their brands stand out from the crowd. This chance to showcase non-traditional marketing methods before a global audience doesn’t come around very often.