Using Brand to Shift the Conversation: a look at the Beijing vs. London Olympic Summer Games

Branding framming the conversation and Beijing 2008 Olympics[Repost from older blog. Original posting date: Jan. 12, 2012]  I was recently discussing brand focus and positioning with a client. One of the most interesting recent examples of brand positioning was the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games verus the upcoming 2012 London Summer Games. If you remember, the media made a big deal about the Beijing Games being China’s “coming out party.” With the Chinese Olympic Committee’s display of modern hosting facilities, the lavish opening ceremonies (costing more than the GNP of most small countries), and the Chinese government’s overall nothing-too-small/nothing-unscripted approach, it was if the Games were a show to world that China is on-the-scene and can now play with the big boys. But friends in high places in Asian politics have assured me that the whole Big Show was not put on primarily for the world’s benefit: it was for its  own Chinese people. The message of the Chinese government was: Look what we can do. See how capable we are? Now, can you please be happy with us?

Whether or not you agree with that debatable point, the Chinese Olympic Committee certainly succeeded in throwing a successful and entertaining Games. But what’s most interesting to me as a branding consultant was the response by Great Britain following the opening ceremonies.

2012 Branding Framming the Conversation London Summer Olympics - logoBritain will be hosting the Summer Games in London starting this July 2012, and its Olympics organizers had been asked how they planned to “compete” with Beijing and their 2008 Big Show. Remember, this is Great Britain—the country with perhaps the least need in the world for a coming out party, and who’s royal family strategically turned down the invitation to attend the Beijing opening ceremonies. British organizers had replied that they intended to bring some “perspective and balance” back to the Games. They rose questions about whether any country should spend an estimated $40 billion on a sporting event when the world is faced with urgent humanitarian, environmental, and economic crises? Their message and brand position: We don’t need to use a theatrical production to establish our legitimacy. We are legitimate. We know it, our people know it, and the world knows it. These Games will be about something else.  And with that, they shifted the conversation from whether they could compete (or could afford to compete) to why they should even need to compete—and altered the world’s perspective as to what was really going on in Beijing. Sly. But then, what else should one expect from the country that has been setting the bar in international affairs, world diplomacy, strategic negotiations for over a thousand years?

I love and admire China’s rich culture and its warm-hearted people (some of whom count as good friends from in my travels in Asia), and I appreciated their Beijing Games. My point, however, is that I can imagine similar situations occurring in the business world with two companies locking horns and how one might take a comparable strategic approach. Company A is faced with competition levied from Company B’s heftier budgets, flashy talk, and glitzy marketing. Yet when Company A has the attention of the marketplace, the organization can make the issue of competing in Company B’s flashy style much less relevant by throwing into the ring the weight of a strongly built brand on Company A’s part (e.g. in our Olympis Games scenario, that would be British trustworthiness, credibility, understanding of needs, a sense of proportion, etc.). The approach makes a subtle-to-strong reminder to consumers of a time when they bought that product over there with the flashy advertising and pretty packaging… but the product inside didn’t do what they paid for. We’ve all had this happen to us—and we distrust that brand name now. Company A can claim this advantage over Company B (e.g. in our Olympics Games scenario, the moral high road and sense of propriety), *if* they have built up brand equity for those corresponding values.

How the London 2012 Summer Games play out remains to be seen. For now, I find the contrast between the two countries’ Olympic approaches and the international discourse surrounding them an interesting example of how brand image can frame or change a conversation.

For help with branding and framming the conversation in your market, see HeLT’s Branding & Positioning services.

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