Why Samsung's Olympic sponsorship was a success - and McDonald's wasn't

14th Sep 2016

Back in February 2014, Samsung recruited a few famous faces to act as mentors in a hunt for talented people who could use its technology to launch their brilliant ideas. The assembled crew spanned photography, film-making, music and cookery.

At the time, Samsung’s UK and Ireland president unveiled the ‘Launching People’ initiative by saying: “We start from a basic position where we know we’ve got some great technology – we’re really seeing people embracing a digital lifestyle – and the devices we have enable people to achieve remarkable things. At this early stage we’re looking forward to great new ideas and we’ll be looking forward to where we can take those.”

That ‘Launching People’ campaign evolved over the years that followed to bring different people together in order to solve real-world problems collaboratively.

The results include ways to donate smartphone processing power while we sleep to support researchers who need it to find cures for diseases, helping autistic children to improve communication and eye-contact via mobile apps and improving road safety through the use of cameras and screens to create ‘transparent trucks’.

Fast forward to the Rio 2016 Olympics, and Samsung turned its attention to highlighting the stories of Olympic athletes who show us what it means to defy limitations.

The nine stories, told across multiple channels with #DoWhatYouCant as their mantra, range from a beach volleyball pair from the cyclone-hit South Pacific island of Vanuatu to the runner who trained in a war zone to become South Sudan’s first ever Olympian.

The ‘Launching People’ initiative has underpinned all Samsung’s great work to improve people’s lives, realise collaborative ideas and inspire through meaningful storytelling.

The results have transformed Samsung into the most meaningful brand worldwide, according to a study by Havas Media Group in 2015. And a survey we carried out at Reevoo around Rio 2016 placed Samsung as the most trusted Olympic sponsor among UK consumers – with 53% putting the brand at number one.

But is it purely innovative ideas and interesting content that gets a brand to the top?

Meaningful work

Interestingly, on the flip-side, our survey uncovered that McDonald’s was the least trusted Olympic sponsor with just 11% of votes, while three quarters of the people we spoke to said brands that sell unhealthy products should not sponsor sporting events.

That’s not to say that McDonald’s doesn’t do meaningful work. Like, Samsung, it invests heavily in initiatives that make the world a better place.

Its Ronald McDonald House Charities provide much-needed free ‘home away from home’ accommodation for families with children in hospitals across the world, helping to keep the whole family together during what can be an extremely stressful time.

By aligning itself to the Torch rather than the athletes, Coca-Cola remains true to what it really represents - the idea of everyday happiness.

Plus, its understanding of the importance of having a positive impact on both communities and the environment has resulted in its wide-reaching support of grassroots football, its sustainable sourcing policy for food and packaging and a Planet Champion Programme for staff, to name just a few of its positive initiatives.

So why did so few respondents to our survey say that they trust the McDonald’s brand?

The answer, I believe, lies in the type of sponsorship activation. McDonald’s has worked hard to battle its unhealthy image with sport at a community level. But when it comes to elite sporting occasions such as the Olympics, it’s clear that the public still don’t see the connection between a fast-food brand and the ultimate in gold-medal sporting success.

That could be why Coca-Cola focuses so much attention on the Olympic Torch Relay rather than competition itself during the Olympics. People can more easily make the association between Coke and a celebratory event that has become as much a part of the Olympic Games as the sport itself.

By aligning itself to the Torch rather than the athletes, Coca-Cola remains true to what it really represents - the idea of everyday happiness.

Attempts from McDonald’s to do something similar and align itself to ‘friendship’ for Rio 2016 didn’t receive the traction the brand had hoped for. Friendship and unity were two common themes among Olympic partners, and lost meaning when not underpinned by historical activity of substance.

In the end, McDonald’s only real exposure was from athletes posting their post competition meal menus across social channels - but this simply reinforced the unhealthy brand image of a ‘guilty pleasure’ and undid any of its more meaningful brand work around communities and sustainability.

It’s only once brands make a long-term positive impact on what really matters to us that they are seen to contribute to our lives. When this becomes the primary brand association, it leads to better attachment, deeper connections and ultimately helps to reinforce trust.

To get there, brands need to start small with something meaningful, just as Samsung did at the start of 2014. Having something of real substance to build-on will generate much more longer-term consumer trust than disposable images of athletes stuffing their faces.

Edwin Bos is chief innovation officer at Reevoo


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