I love the Olympics. I always have – ever since living in Atlanta in 1996. I moved to Sydney to be there for 2000. My son was born right in the middle of the 2004 Athens games (appropriately, during the women’s marathon). And now I am working on planning for a client that’s a Global Olympic Sponsor for Beijing in 2008. It is a special place that the Olympics occupy in our world. It’s a sporting event, but is no longer about the sport. If the World Series is about tradition, the Super Bowl about advertising, the Soccer World Cup about dominance in Soccer and national pride … then the Olympics stands along because it is about an ideal. It is about celebrating humanity, as their tagline boldly promises. About finding real heros who persevere and win (or lose gallantly) in sports that most people would never have otherwise cared about. The Olympics fit a niche that the world needs, and wouldn’t be able to fill without it. How many other sporting events can claim to promote world peace and harmony among nations?
While I agree with the critics that say the Winter Olympics are elitist (excluding Asian and African nations – except for China) … they do still give a much needed brand extension to one of the world’s most powerful and emotional, but rare brands. The challenge for the Olympics was always to maintain it’s relevance while people had four years to forget about them. When the IOC changed the schedule in 1994 so the Winter Olympics would be on opposing two year schedules to the summer games – they extended the Olympic Brand to move beyond it’s 4 year constraints. As a result, it becomes a greater part of kids lives as they grow up, and helped to keep the momentum and currency of the Olympic Games fresh and relevant. Brand extensions can be a tricky thing, as brand marketer and author Laura Ries cautions in her blog about branding. Done right, as in the case of the Olympics, it can add tremendously strong value to a brand.