The Olympics has once again transformed our relationship with content – and changed the agenda for both broadcasters and brands.
Revolution is built into the DNA of the Olympic movement. Each Olympiad delivers its own never-to-be-repeated moment in time and its own claim to being the greatest Games. As a proud Brit I feel this way about London 2012 but I also know that people felt the same way about Beijing, Barcelona and Athens. And as somebody who works in the TV industry, I know that the unique feelings aroused by each Games are due in great part to the very different ways in which we watch them.
The world’s experience of the Olympics changes fundamentally each and every time that it comes around. It leaps forward – and in doing so, it changes global audiences’ relationship with the content that they consume. From the first TV broadcast coverage of the London Games of 1948 through to the 5,000 hours of HD footage broadcast from Beijing in 2008, the innovations that broadcasters use to bring us closer to the action have a permanent impact on the way that we read, listen and watch.
When the Games returned to London in 2012, it wasn’t just the relationship of consumers to content that shifted; the type of connections that brands sought to create with consumers through that content changed too. For the first time in history, advertisers chose to look beyond the awareness-building potential of the Olympics to get actively involved in the way their target audiences actually experienced the Games.
As host broadcaster, the BBC’s commitment to covering every second of every event at every venue was made possible by a major shift towards digital platforms and personal choice. Brands responded in similar fashion by moving beyond the pre-recorded ad to respond to events as they happened. AT&T’s Rethink Possible ads were just as live as NBC’s prime-time Olympic coverage, with details of athletes’ actual performance inserted into ads that ran just after the performances themselves were aired. In the UK, Royal Mail proved that offline, owned media could also deliver relevant, rapid response, through its gold-painted postboxes and limited edition stamps.
This new definition of Live took viewers beyond the sensation of “it’s just like being there” because now they could be anywhere they needed to be, at any moment. This content experience wasn’t just real-time, it was hyper-personalised – something again reflected in brand activity with Samsung leveraging social media to demonstrate audiences’ individual connection to athletes.
The danger for marketers is falling into the “next best thing is all” trap. We’ve been here before with ‘search’ and ‘social’. Now brands that simply leap onto the real-time or hyper-personalised bandwagon risk missing something just as important about London 2012. It’s crucial to remember that this was also a unique shared community experience where the idea of ‘Being Part’ of the Games was key. It offered an experience that was hyper-personal yet also communal, with the full range of social media used to drive participation and connection – and it showed that human nature doesn’t always mean wanting to be treated as an individual. It suggests that the future for both brands and broadcasters lies in fusing our ability to deliver the real-time and individualised, with the all-important sense of participation in great shared experiences.
How will that sense of the individualised and the communal take shape in Rio, four years from now? A sense of corporate and brand responsibility seems a likely contender to provide that sense of something bigger – as does Rio’s cultural history of carnival, which gives brands great opportunity to build richer and more resonant entertainment experiences around the Games. Both continue themes that existed in embryonic form in London but could be developed far more effectively in the future.
But brands cannot afford to wait four years to again be a part of how content is consumed. Audiences’ demand for individual participation and collective, emotional experiences isn’t about to be packed away until Rio. It exists wherever powerful content exists.
Once a new type of content experience has been anointed at the Olympics, it stays with us for good. The challenge for brands, like those competing against the likes of Usain Bolt this summer, is to keep up.
By Chris Dobson, executive vice-president & general manager, BBC Advertising