By Lucy Unger, Regional Managing Director, Fitch and Sam Stone (pictured), Design Director, Fitch.
The athletes are home, the open-top buses and news-crews have faded away and the honours list is being hastily redrawn. The legacy of 2012 has already begun, and not least for potential sponsors.
With such a large and unexpected haul of medals from ‘Team GB’ in the Beijing Olympics, private investors and sponsors will be queuing up with new enthusiasm to play their part in making London 2012 a huge success. But what, exactly, are they hoping to gain from their investment and, perhaps more importantly, what should London, Britain and the wider world expect of them in return for high-profile association with the greatest show on earth?
The answer, I think, is a new deal – one based less on an ethics-free exchange of money and more on shared and measurably authentic ideals.
The Beijing closing ceremony told us something important about London 2012. We had rivers of choreographed humanity bathed in light, music and the snap, crackle and pop of infinite fireworks. This was showbiz, a showcase – a show-off. This was China selling China.
London will be selling an idea. And the idea will be the hope of a sustainable, inclusive future for all of us in a world facing ecological, ethical and demographical challenges on a scale no-one alive has ever witnessed. Coke, Nike, BP, McDonalds, anyone? It’s tough one.
No other event in the world provides its sponsors with such an enormous global marketing opportunity. By virtue of this its typically brands of enormous reach and power who are Olympic sponsors and partners – brands who have the power to change behaviours and could use this scope and influence to be seen as a mechanism for delivering a positive message on a global scale.
The all too common ‘logo slap’ exercise adds nothing more than to provide their existing customer base and stakeholders the reassurance that they are a global brand.
China used the Olympics as an opportunity to show the world that, despite the doubts and troubles surrounding the build up to the games, they could compete on a global scale when it comes to delivering an event on this size. Beijing 2008 has brought China’s economic, political and industrial coming-of-age to the world’s attention like nothing else. Internally, at least, it has enabled the nation to promise the legacy of a better tomorrow for its people.
The question then remains, what can London and its sponsors do and what will be their legacy? The ideal that the Olympics provide is one of a healthy lifestyle, but what about a healthy world? And what about sponsor brands having the obligation of aligning with the very singular London 2012 vision and ideals to support the delivery of a healthier world?
Only a few weeks ago the Chinese government banned all cars from the city centre and stopped some factories from operating in a bid to reduce the cities monumental CO2 emissions in preparation for the Olympic Games. The flip side is that the scale of the Olympic building programme, centred around the Bird’s Nest stadium, created a world steel shortage.
London isn’t just talking about a greener Olympics and a sustainable (in every sense) legacy – they’re walking the walk. For instance, among a number of different initiatives, is the widening and extending of the canal system in east London to shrink the carbon footprint created by traffic in and out of 2012 construction sites. In this way London is finding a 21st century eco-solution in the very waterways that pumped life into the world’s first industrial revolution.
Ours is a mature nation. A first world nation. A nation that started the industrial era and now, with the world watching, can set a benchmark for how to think, act, behave, advertise and sponsor in the post-industrial world of CSR through truly ethical, positive and enlightening associations and endorsements.
To get it right, London’s Olympics must police this process with all the rigour they are bringing to creating a future-facing Games. They must make sure that appointed sponsors do more than pay lip-service to ideals of their own choosing…or imagining. They must be as innovative and off the time as their Olympic partner in a way that is true to themselves as a brand and to the event as a whole.
If the result is a closer, more believable, more inspirational fit between global brands and an Olympics that is committed to a realistically sustainable future, everyone wins.
If that level of commitment frightens away sponsors who lack the same depth of commitment, so be it. Everyone still wins.
Brands that want to be a force for change, that have the power and the will to change behaviours for the better, should be the only brands visible at London 2012. Anything less is, frankly, a sell-out.
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