Marketing

Faster, Higher, Stronger

HARISH BHAT | Updated on November 15, 2017

The London Olympic Games 2012 are less than 100 days away. More than one billion people, or roughly 15 per cent of the world's population, watched the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics four years ago. This year, the number is likely to be larger. No other sporting event comes close: at second position is the finals of World Cup Football, which was watched by around 700 million viewers two years ago.

For 16 days after the Opening event, the world's eyeballs will remain firmly focused on the Olympic stadia in London, the champions, the stories and the medal tallies. Closer home in India, newspaper headlines will revolve around the Olympics, we will pray hard for medals, and new national heroes will be born. Remember the glory brought home by Abhinav Bindra and Rajyavardhan Rathore?

What makes the Olympics so incredibly popular, one of the most powerful and appealing brands of our times? Like all other megabrands – such as Coke, Apple, IBM and Toyota – the answer is very simple: The magic lies in the core proposition of brand Olympics, the special elements (in marketing jargon, product features) which distinguish the brand, and, of course, its strong emotive appeal.

Core proposition of brand Olympics

What is the core proposition of the Olympic Games? Ever since the Games were founded in Olympia, Greece, in the 8th century BC, the core of this brand has remained remarkably consistent: It represents a coming together of mankind, for the achievement of acts of human excellence in sport, and the celebration of these achievements. This proposition appeals greatly to us for two key reasons.

First, in our daily lives, we have to contend with a world which is, unfortunately, divided by several boundaries. Therefore, we rejoice in seeing these boundaries shattered at the Olympics, as all nations and peoples of the world come together, whatever be their political, economic or cultural differences.

Second, Olympic medals represent the pinnacle of achievement in sports, much like the Nobel Prizes represent the highest recognition in literature or science. As human beings, we are always drawn to people who reach the greatest heights of achievement, as through their accomplishments, they inspire us to higher goals in our own lives.

Symbols of the brand

As in the case of all powerful brands, this core proposition is expressed through symbols which are widely understood and memorable.

The five interlocking rings, perhaps the most famous symbol of the Olympics, represents a coming together of the five continents at the Games. Each continent is depicted by a ring in a different colour – blue, yellow, black, green and red. The founder of the Modern Olympics, Pierre de Coubertin, described this logo beautifully: “These five rings represent the five parts of the world, which are now won over to Olympism, and are willing to accept healthy competition.”

The other symbol which expresses the core proposition of the games is the Olympic motto: “Faster, Higher, Stronger”. In the original Greek, this motto reads – “Citius, Altius, Fortius”. Using three simple words, this motto urges all participants to reach new levels of excellence, even as they strive for victory. de Coubertin is reported to have borrowed these words from his friend Henri Didon, a Dominican priest.

A third symbol, the Olympic medal, is the ultimate tribute to the pinnacle of achievement and victory, which is at the core of the brand. On one side of the medal is the figure of Nike, the Greek Goddess of victory. For athletes and sportspeople, there is perhaps no greater item of desire than an Olympic medal that they can call their own.

These three symbols, when viewed together, express the core proposition of the Olympics so evocatively, yet in an easy manner which is understood immediately worldwide. Think of other famous brand names, and you will see that very few other brands have such compelling propositions and symbols. No wonder the Olympics is such a powerful brand.

Universal appeal

Apart from what the Olympics stand for, what makes the event so dominant is its unparalleled global reach. Virtually all countries on the planet participate in the Olympics. Around 200 countries are expected to participate in the London Olympics, which is also the total number of independent nations in the world. In comparison, the ICC Cricket World Cup which is such a craze in India has only 14 participating countries and is virtually ignored elsewhere.

Apart from the number of countries which participate, the Olympics also has universal appeal because it encompasses as many as 35 sporting disciplines – including gymnastics, athletics, shooting, boxing, tennis, hockey, football, basketball, cycling, fencing, triathlon, pentathlon, aquatics, equestrian events and weightlifting. Therefore, there is something for everyone. No other sporting brand offers such variety, all in one place.

In the universality of its appeal, brand Olympics is perhaps rivalled only by modern global brands such as Coke and McDonald's, which are present in virtually all corners of the globe.

Grandeur and Drama

Adding to the lure of brand Olympics is the grandeur and drama that surround the games. For instance, the Olympic Torch is always ignited in Olympia in Greece, by eleven women dressed in flowing white Greek robes. These women represent the vestal virgins, and perform a ceremony in which the torch is lit directly from the light of the sun. The torch is then carried on its last lap into the Olympic Stadium by a well known sportsman, who lights the Olympic cauldron to symbolise the start of the games. Watching legends such as Muhammed Ali, Michael Platini or Paavo Nurmi carry the torch and light the cauldron is always an inspiring sight.

Similarly, the grand opening ceremony of the Games is a majestic spectacle in itself: with teams of each nation marching by, proudly carrying their flags and dressed in national costumes, followed by spectacular light and sound shows, and, of course, the dramatic taking of the oath.

Legends

Like all enduring brands, the Olympics also has several inspiring and unforgettable legends. There are ancient legends, such as the story of how Heracles (Hercules), the son of Zeus, founded the Games. Then there are several modern legends, including names such as Carl Lewis, who has been honoured as male athlete of the century, and won nine Olympic gold medals; or Nadia Comaneci, the first gymnast to score a perfect ten at the games; or Mark Spitz, the swimmer, who has won the most medals at a single Olympics.

Emotive appeal

All great brands are built not just on great product features, but also on enduring emotive appeal. Brand Olympics has plenty of emotive appeal, which keeps viewers glued to its events.

One source of emotive appeal is the real-life stories of triumph and tragedy that mark each Olympic games. Consider, for instance, the memorable triumph of Jesse Owens at the Berlin Olympics. A black athlete who won four gold medals at the Nazi Olympics, cocked a snook at Hitler's theory of superiority of the Aryan race, and thereby dominated the image of these games forever. On the other hand, consider the near-triumph (and therefore tragedy) of Indian superstar athletes Milkha Singh and P.T. Usha, who lost Olympic medals by a mere fraction of a second each, in the 1960 and 1984 Olympics respectively. And reflect for a moment on the utter tragedy of the Canadian runner Ben Johnson, who broke the 100 metres world record to win the Olympic gold medal in 1988, only to be stripped of his medal when it was discovered a few days later that he had consumed performance-enhancing drugs.

Every Olympic Games has its share of exuberance and collapse, of smiles and tears. These intense human emotions, seen at close quarters on our television screens, makes Brand Olympics a roller-coaster journey that captivates our hearts and minds. What makes such appeal even more special is that these are real, spontaneous and unscripted stories, unlike so many other staged events or television serials. No wonder the Olympics has been called the ultimate reality show!

(Harish Bhat works in Titan Industries, where he has held senior business roles. He is currently on a sabbatical. These are his personal view)

Published on May 02, 2012

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