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Olympic Marketing Musings

[fusion_text]I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what we can expect at the Rio Olympic Games, which begin August 5th. Much of the talk has been negative…Will the facilities be ready? Will the water be clean enough not to catch all kinds of illneses?…And of course, all the concern about the Zika virus that has already caused the withdrawal of several well-known athletes (and even broadcasters such as Savannah Guthrie).

On the (potentially) positive side, there is the compelling story of swimmer Michael Phelps. Phelps set numerous records and broke Mark Spitz’ record number of gold medals at the Beijing Olympics eight years ago. He was immediately the most high profile athlete to come out of those Olympics and was signed to sponsor numerous products leading to tens of millions of dollars in contracts. But Phelps’ Post-Beijing, out-of-the-water life has not been paved with gold. There was the weed bong picture incident at the University of South Carolina that went viral. Then there have been two DUIs. In an attempt to revive his image, Phelps decided to swim in the 2012 London Olympics. There were allegations that he spent more time partying in hotel pools than he did improving lap times in the Olympic pools. And while he won medals, his performance was hardly up to his world-beating standards.

So here he is, eight years removed from Beijing with plans to swim in Rio. How will he do? If he fails, those gushing brands will fade into the woodwork. If he succeeds, all the millions they have sunk into his image will be worth what could possibly be THE story of the Games. He may not even qualify for the team! That would be big news in and of itself.

No one has invested more in Phelps than UnderArmour, the sports-apparel retailer. UA is headquartered in the Baltimore area, which is where Michael Phelps grew up. It seemed like a match made in marketing heaven. Despite Phelps’ hiccups, Under Armour has stuck by him. They have even invested more money in the Brand using his struggle to make it to Rio as the back-drop.

One of the TV commercials for this effort was just awarded a major prize at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. I like it a lot. But it will all be for naught if he belly flops in Rio. Stay-tuned. And check out this outstanding piece of work:



Under Armour and Droga5’s “Rule Yourself’ campaign continues
with a stirring spot featuring the swimmer Michael Phelps


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