OPINION29 July 2016

The Olympics: an occasional brand

Latin America Leisure & Arts Opinion UK

With the Olympics opening ceremony just a week away, Nadim Sadek of TransgressiveX reflects on the emotional resonance of one of the worlds’ biggest and most evocative sporting events.

Olympics crop

Samba. Pele. That statue on the hill overlooking the bay. A sense of gaiety.

The sights and feels of Brazil flood similarly through most minds and, when plumbed a bit more, more surfaces. Isn’t the president being impeached? Has the population really more or less doubled recently? The World Cup horror of a German thrashing on home soil, just a couple of years ago…

As consumers, we are able to call up imprints of things. Countries are brands. They have values, purpose, differentiation, value for money, packaging. We readily compare them, sifting through a competitive set of fun, efficiency, sobriety, stern-ness, whatever the dominant notion is that we are using as chief filter in our choices to engage with them.

But the Olympics, and their host country at each occasion, are a strange brand. Despite an entirely predictable four-year climax, we never really know it ‘til we see it again. Most people gorge on what is one of the world’s biggest, most communising of events. New names become familiar, forgotten numbers evolve into new everyday KPIs, fresh heroes and villains enter common parlance: evaluated, marked, awarded with historic finality.

Then we put the whole thing back in the fridge until the next gorging cycle is upon us. Each Olympic crescendo, moreover, is a new confluence. Not only do we revive our ambient notions of what the Games are all about, we also twin them with the flavour of where they, this time, occur.

It’s like knowing you enjoy fried chicken, but never knowing how the next box will be served. Consistency, that esteemed behaviour of most great brands, is not immediately evident. It’s interesting then, that a mobile brand like the Olympics must therefore depend on other great brand traits: clarity of purpose, empathetic connection to its subscribers, and behaving in way to which we can readily and generously relate.

These overwhelm its always-lurking brand fallibilities of questionable integrity and transparency. And worrying value for money. Its superficial purpose is to showcase the most splendid of physical human participation and achievement, with its implicit texts of determination, sacrifice and single-mindedness.

Its deeper purpose it to bring nations together in demilitarised competition, allowing all of our tribes to take each other on without damage or horror – a sort of anaesthetised alpha-election. And further, families bask in an interruption to the mundane rhythms of their lives, feasting upon new conversations, TV schedules and back-stories with which they regale each other.

As a brand, it’s mesmeric. What do we expect of this next Brazilian spectacle? The graceless stories of stadium construction and loss of life have faded into the detritus of the last World Cup. We’re a bit scared of the Zika virus, but we don’t really get it. Politics look ugly, but don’t they always? Thoughts of barren poverty shadow each attempt to have an unencumbered sense of fun.

Yet as surely as the drums beat and and trumpets call, this summer’s mega-event courses through our minds like super-oxygenated blood cells, stirring our imaginations to on- and off-the-field ecstasy and wonder, rippling with brilliance and intoxicating colour.

The Olympics’ latest product launch will doubtless offer a kaleidoscope of wonder and hyperbole. It’ll sustain us through to the next helping, wherever that’s going to be.

Olympic brand management is about trickle and smash, 44 months of gentle, uncontroversial sustenance followed by four of prolific, profound, persistent mind-invasion (Winter Olympics top-up notwithstanding).

No one else does it quite the same way.