Social Olympics: Olympic Torch Relay proves social media a double-edged sword for its sponsors

Over the last eight weeks we've been studying how well the Olympics is working for the brands that sponsor it. We're using our own social media framework to assess whether the Olympics are beneficial to the brands, taking a close look at Adidas and Cadbury specifically, and also the broader conversation about Olympic sponsorship on the whole. The last two weeks reveal the down sides to Olympic sponsorship, with social media playing a central role in delivering the challenge.

Social Media: a relay of Swords and Torches

With the Diamond Jubilee behind us, and less than 50 days until the start of the Olympic games, things are starting to ramp up for Olympic sponsors. P&G continues to push the Olympic Mums angle with its Best Job Ad, going strong with nearly 4.5 million views so far, while Panasonic has launched its Flag Tag app, allowing users to superimpose their country's flags on their own faces. The app has contributed to Panasonic's current top spot in conversations about Olympic sponsorship.

Social Olympics 4 - Fig 1

Source: Brandwatch

Meanwhile, many brands are using Facebook to drive home their Olympic connection to fans, including Samsung. It has created an Everyone's Olympic Games hub as a portal to all of its social media activity related and the Games.

Social Olympics 4 - Fig 2

Samsung has also harnessed the excitement around the Olympic Torch by posting Facebook photos of people at the relay waving Samsung banners and generally getting jazzed about London 2012.

The Olympic Torch Relay also proves that social media is a double-edged sword for its sponsors. This came to light in the last week when an unsavoury story surfaced about brand sponsors giving up torch spots to its own staff. Here's the gist: a fraction of the over 8,000 torch spots are allocated to sponsors and are meant to be given to well-deserving heroes.  Last week, Help Me Investigate the Olympics, a crowdsourced news coverage site, found that numerous Olympic sponsors had given torch spots out to their own employees. Names included Coca-Cola, BP, EDF and Adidas, who we've been watching closely throughout this study. Adidas was called out in particular for using the exact same nomination story for seven of its torchbearers, some of whom included company bosses.

Adidas still struggling to turn the Olympics into a Social Media win

Whatever their Olympic dreams, it's starting to seem like Adidas just can't win. The sweatshop story continues to be a burden, as campaigners from War on Want have targeted Adidas in a 90-second ad airing on YouTube. So far the video has had 7,724 views and has received significant coverage on high profile news outlets like the Telegraph and BBC. The organization is also using Twitter (8,597 followers) and Facebook (4,916 likes) to spread anti-Adidas sentiment, using tags such as #ShameOnAdidas.

So it seems, social media has been working against Adidas, at least as far as the Olympics are concerned. Stories like these contribute to Adidas' rise in negative commentary over the last two weeks - it has raked in 96,000 negative mentions compared to nearly 58,000 the two weeks prior.

Social Olympics 4 - Fig 3

Source: Brandwatch

It's a telling story for brands: social media exists whether you like it or not and people are out there talking about you, making it a driving force behind your reputation. Furthermore, social media provides a powerful way for organisations like War On Want to spread their own messages. To this end, it's surprising that Adidas isn't using its own social media accounts, and website, to push the Olympics further, but so far it has focused on promoting product lines and other events like the Grand Prix - maybe Adidas just has its hands full?

Cadbury on positive footing but is it doing any better than it was without its Olympic connection?

Cadbury at least seems to have realised the importance of social. The company started its Olympic social media efforts early with the Spots vs Stripes campaign, and has followed this with an ongoing series of campaigns designed to harness some of that Olympic fever. Recently, at the 50-day mark until the Olympic games, Cadbury took advantage of the #50DaysToGo hashtag, running a pin badge competition on Twitter and publishing pictures of its Olympic ambassadors on Google+ (this one of Shanaze Reade had 71 "+1"'s and 54 comments). 

Ongoing campaigns include Unwrap Gold (6,556 Tweets thus far) and the 'Cadbury Keep Team GB Pumped Parade', a virtual parade that can be viewed from within a Facebook app on the Cadbury UK page. Users can join the parade, create an avatar and cheer on the British Olympic athletes in the lead up to the Olympics.

While these numbers are no doubt praiseworthy, and have certainly helped keep up Cadbury's positive juju, it's questionable whether Cadbury on the whole is doing any better than it was without its Olympic connection. According to Facebook, the Cadbury Parade App has only 70 active monthly users. And the Unwrap Gold campaign had only 20 mentions over the last two weeks. In fact, overall discussion about Cadbury continues to fall (though relative proportions of positive, negative and neutral sentiment have been stable).

Social Olympics 4 - Fig 4

Source: Brandwatch

However, there's something to be said for Cadbury's involvement in social media. As much as there are the expected health-related comments about the somewhat contradictory nature of Cadbury's role in the Olympics, this commentary doesn't have a huge impact on the overall discussion around Cadbury, which is mostly positive or neutral. Part of this is due to Cadbury's own involvement with social media: it has taken charge of the conversation and used it to dominate the online world with great chitchat about the brand. Even if the Olympics have had little effect on bumping up that chitchat above baseline levels, it has at least given Cadbury a vehicle through which it can maintain its positive standing in a manner that is timely and relevant to consumers.

 About our Methodology

  • Create a benchmark of Social Media chatter in English for the brands and for the topic as at 29/04/12
  • Monitor changes in chatter
  • Identify causes for change in levels of chatter
  • Assess to what degree changes are beneficial or other wise to the brand
  • Assess to what degree Social Media is driving the changes and, as a phenomenon, improving the marketing & PR process for the brands in focus and the wider story


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