Legend has it that the Olympics were founded by Hercules and Alcmene – he the son of Zeus, she a ‘mere mortal’. That story has the competition occurring every four years as part of a festival to honor Zeus. The games were named after Olympia, a sacred site in Southern Greece. The first recording of the competition was in 776 B.C. At that time, the competition consisted of one 192 meter race won by a cook.
After the Romans conquered Greece in the second century B.C., the games continued until 363 A.D. Then, they were deemed to be a Pagan festival and were banned. It wouldn’t be until 1896 that the games were revived. The games that mark the ‘modern Olympics’ took place in Athens, Greece. Those games featured 60,000 spectators watching 280 athletes, representing 13 countries, compete in 43 events. It was at that event that the marathon was first introduced.
It was the 1924 games in Paris which vaulted the Olympics to international significance. That year saw 3,000 contestants from forty-four nations. Females competed for the first time (more than 100 athletes), there was the first ever closing ceremony and the Winter Olympics were begun. Winter and Summer Olympics took place in the same year, every four years, until 1992. It was then that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) separated the winter games from the summer games resulting in Olympic Games occurring in every even numbered year from then on.
The 2016 Summer Olympic Games are being held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. More than 10,500 athletes representing 206 countries will compete in 306 events. For the first time ever, a team of International refugees will compete under the Olympic flag and sponsored by the IOC.
The Olympics have become big business. The cost for this year’s games is estimated to be over $11 billion, generating revenue of $9 billion which will result in a $2 billion deficit. The National Broadcasting Company (NBC) has paid $4.4 billion for the broadcast rights through 2020 and $7.65 billion for the twelve years that will follow.
Pierre de Courbertin, a French educator who is recognized as the father of the modern Olympic movement, is quoted as saying “The Olympics are a pilgrimage to the past and an act of faith in the future.” The Olympics, in their purest form, are built on the belief that blending sport with culture and education will lead to a better world. At a minimum, the games allow the best athletes in the world to compete while representing their country.
Through the years, Olympics have seen things fall well short of their intended ideal. Politics have come in to play. Corruption, payoffs, unsafe competitive environments and misguided ideals have all been alleged, if not reality. Athletes have been tested positive for banned substances – performance enhancing drugs.
Are the Olympics a fearless brand because of the money or the numbers of athletes and countries involved? Can so much controversy, greed and cheating keep the Olympics from being a fearless brand? The answer to both questions is a resounding NO.
What makes the Olympic movement a fearless brand is the Olympic spirit, a spirit which cannot, will not, be diminished by the negatives. It’s the Olympic spirit which is the emotional connection felt across the world.
Fearless brands create a powerful emotional connection
The single most essential element to building an effective brand – a fearless brand – is creating a powerful emotional connection. There’s absolutely an element of nationalism at play. There’s the love of sport and competition. However, it’s the spirit and heart shown by the athletes that has established that emotional bond between the Olympics and people the world over.
This year alone the stories resonate across nationalities, gender and race.
Simone Biles, the 19 year old gold medal gymnast who at the age of two was taken away from her drug addicted mother and raised by her grandfather and his second wife.
The bravery of Ibtihaj Muhammad, the American Muslim who is wearing the traditional hijab (scarf) while competing in fencing.
Andreas Tobas, the German gymnast who competed in his last event, the pommel horse, even though he had suffered a torn ACL. His routine was necessary for his team to advance – he delivered in spite of the pain.
Michael Phelps, the American swimmer who has won more Olympic medals than any other person in history.
The unbridled joy of Brazil’s Rafaela Silva as she won that country’s first gold medal.
The ten athletes who comprise the refugee team have won fans worldwide. Yusra Mardini, finished first in her heat in the Women’s 100M Butterfly swim. It wasn’t too long ago that she was a passenger on a boat overloaded with Syrians fleeing war-torn Damascus. When it capsized, she, her sister and two others swam, pushed and pulled the boat, for three hours before getting to safely shore.
An entire country erupts in joy as Fiji wins its first ever gold medal.
Those stories and athletes epitomize the Olympic spirit and have captured the imagination and hearts of millions – and the games are not even at their halfway mark as of this writing.
This year’s Olympics are perhaps the most controversial games ever, putting politics aside. Yes, the U.S. boycott of the 1980 Moscow games and the Russian boycott of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, the 1972 Munich massacre and the 1968 black glove statement are more controversial – but in a different way than the Rio games. The 2016 games in Brazil highlight societal issues – notably poverty, disparity of life style and opportunity within Brazil.
In spite of the negatives, the Olympics are indeed a fearless brand. To be abundantly clear, by no means do I mean to diminish or ignore the very real and important issues surrounding these games, the IOC, certain countries and athletes. Quite the contrary.
Acknowledging those issues only reinforces the purpose of this blog series. These stories are meant to define a fearless brand, demonstrate their powerful results and point out how you can incorporate these principles into your brand. The Olympics are one of the best examples of the single most significant factor in successful branding.
An emotional connection is the soul of your brand – The greatest benefit of building a fearless brand is connecting on a visceral level with your customers. Humans are driven to act based on emotion, to some degree or another. The Olympic spirit is exactly that – a powerful emotional connection which overrides most negativity surrounding the game. Make that connection – nurture it – cherish it.
The Olympics, your business, your products and your personal brand will all be subject to negative outside influences. The best you can hope to do is effectively manage your brand. The best way to do that is to connect with those you will serve. It is a fact that if all things are equal, people will do business with those that they know, like and trust. Those are emotions which an effective brand generates. That emotional connection is the key to winning a branding gold medal.