Go Nation or Go World?

Brands Take Sides

The Olympic Games may have started in Ancient Greece as a pledge of truce among warring countries, but even then their underlying force was the competitive spirit. The same can be said about the Olympics today: While the interlocking rings are eternal symbols of international unity, it is the medal count that signifies a country’s talent, resources and ultimately its position in the world.

When we think about the number of global brands vying for international attention this year, we notice a similar dichotomy emerging from the flurry of advertisements custom-made for the London Games. Some brands choose to tug at heartstrings with inspiring, universal campaigns, while others prefer to drive intense patriotic fervor with locally tailored messages. As these different branding approaches duke it out on the biggest international marketing platform of the year, we wonder which tactic will come out on top. When it comes to globalization versus national identity, are the Olympic Games a celebration of our collective strengths, or an occasion to chase national glory?

Coming Together

For the London 2012 Festival, the host city has invited more than 25,000 artists from all around the world to share their cultural achievements. Already making headlines is a Brazilian creation – a giant literary maze built from thousands of books, with walls up to 2.5 meters high. At the Festival at least, it’s not about the competition but the celebration of coming together and reveling in human triumph.

Sponsors also understand the immense emotional power generated by delivering a universal message, so big brands like P&G are keen on finding and expressing that common thread for the Olympic Games. For a few months now, P&G’s tear-inducing “Mom” campaign reminds us of our shared identity and sacrifice as we see Olympians through their mothers’ eyes. The universal resonance behind this campaign is summed up by P&G’s marketing executive, Jerry Rice who states, “You don’t need to be a parent to a world-class athlete to understand and have warm, positive feelings about those everyday sacrifices.” The bet placed on “positive feelings” is paying off, as the campaign generated some 50,000 tweets, 400,000 Facebook likes and an estimated $130 million in incremental sales of P&G products.

Standing apart

Coming off of the 60th anniversary of the Queen’s reign, England is beaming with patriotism. To further commemorate their role in the Olympics, the UK is issuing commemorative Olympic £5 coins and using an English band, Muse, for the Official Olympic anthem. But England is not the only country using the Olympics to distinguish itself amidst a global forum. Kenya is also using the Olympic Games as a venue to advertise the opportunities found in its country. The African nation is utilizing the platform to reach millions of people and raise awareness for what the country can provide from an investment, commerce and tourism perspective, and in doing so is also creating a sense of pride for their team.

But countries are not the sole benefactors of Olympic Games opportunities. While sponsors such as P&G take the universal route, others, like McDonald’s, tap into national pride. McDonald’s does business in 119 countries around the world; however the brand has taken a globally local or “glocal” approach to their go-to-market strategy. They activate this strategy by infusing local flavor into a consistent experience, with the Big Mac appearing on every menu but sometimes alongside a McSahara, and other times alongside a Teriyaki McBurger. As an Olympics sponsor, McDonald’s can speak to a global audience. But in the spirit of bringing local flavor in a stable construct, McDonald’s customizes its Olympic advertising for each of its major markets. While the message is consistent, its delivery relies on local athletes. Rather than channeling the spirit of the Olympic Games universally, McDonald’s encourages national pride. By supporting local teams and individuals, McDonald’s is able to connect to consumers in a customized, relevant way.

The combination of a globally unifying vision and individual distinctiveness is more present during the Olympics than during any other occasion. The dichotomy is impacted by political and economic dynamics, corporate expectations and what resonates emotionally.

Over the course of the next two weeks, we won’t only be watching athletes compete. We’ll be taken on an emotional journey, rallying for our country and for global unity, inspired by the brands that take us there and fight for our attention.

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