Olympic Sponsors Stage Large Experiential Marketing Campaigns in Vancouver

By Michael O'Connell February 12, 2010, 12:07 PM EST

Sponsors like Omega built elaborate pavilions for the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing.

Photo: Eric Powell for BizBash

Events and branded promotions at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver—which start tonight—probably won't seem as over-the-top as the most recent Summer Games, in Beijing in 2008. But that appears to be more a reflection on the critical mass of sponsor and spectator interest in Beijing than apathy for Vancouver or the effects of the changed economy. Judging from statistics released by participating marketers, they're going forward with ambitious, long-term plans typical of Winter Olympics past, and capitalizing on the already significant financial commitments required of sponsors.

In addition to an estimated 500,000 international visitors, attendance in Beijing included 2.5 million Chinese descending on the Olympic grounds. Many brands—including Coca-Cola, McDonald's, and Omega—used the convergence as an opportunity to reach the previously untapped market. But the typically more subdued Winter Games, which organizers anticipate will host an estimated one million visitors through the end of its run on February 28, are receiving a corporate commitment similar to years past.

Worldwide Olympic Partners, the Games' version of platinum-level sponsors, have all planned activations consistent with those seen in previous years. Coca-Cola, Samsung, Panasonic, and first-time partner Acer have commissioned pop-up pavilions in the activity hub of downtown Vancouver's LiveCity. Athletes, spectators, and non-ticketed consumers alike will be allowed on the grounds throughout the Games, and each brand expects daily attendance to number in the tens of thousands.

The location also means a bolstered American automotive presence that the Olympics haven't seen since Salt Lake City in 2002. General Motors, which limited its marketing to a handful of green cars in Beijing, is the exclusive automotive partner in Vancouver. A fleet of 4,600 vehicles has been allocated to the Vancouver Organizing Committee for shuttling media, athletes, government representatives, and other attendees between Olympic sites.

There are a handful of new sponsor activations as well—mostly from Canadian brands. The 2010 Games are only the second to come to Canada—and the last time was more than 20 years ago. Corporations such as Bell Canada and Hudson's Bay Company have come on as partners, with ample experiential marketing as part of their plan.

Bell constructed a 3,000-square-foot temporary glass enclosure in downtown Vancouver, where the public can come in out of the cold to watch the Games on Bell televisions and sit down for live interviews with Olympians. Hudson's Bay is hosting similar activities, but didn't need to worry about building a pop-up structure: its Vancouver flagship is located in a prime Olympic locale and will host events daily. The company has even partnered with Coca-Cola to host collectibles trading and a nightly parade series through the popular retail area of Yaletown.

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