Five Years On From London 2012

Published: July 27, 2017

“How can marketers learn from the brand promise of London 2012 to make successful brand promises of their own?”

Where were you on Super Saturday?

August 4th 2017 marks five years since Great Britain won six gold medals and one silver in 12 scintillating hours of Olympic competition in London. Until Rio last year, it was Britain’s most successful day in 104 years of the Games.

You might argue London’s Olympic dream was realised that day. But, while we still remember the performances of Mo Farrah, Jessica Ennis and Greg Rutherford, the success of our British athletes is one part of a much bigger story.

The bold brand promise of London 2012 went beyond sporting achievement with two substantial commitments. First, to deliver a brilliantly planned and managed sporting festival that would be the envy of the world. And second, to deliver a legacy for sport, culture and urban regeneration that would echo for a generation.

Five years on, has that brand promise been delivered? And what lessons can marketers draw from its example to make successful brand promises of their own?

As a stand-alone event, the Games themselves have been roundly praised. Ticket sales of £659 million exceeded the previous record of £347 million set by Sydney in 2000, and 11 million of the 11.3 million tickets available were sold. The British team performed exceptionally well in front of largely British crowds. The 70,000 Games Makers who staffed the venues became icons for volunteering and the Olympic ‘product’ was well received by a typically cynical British public.

But has that ‘product’ stood the test of time? Opinions are more divided on this.

In many ways, the legacy of London 2012 compares favourably to other recent Games. The Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park has transformed a once-dilapidated part of East London. The Games have meant more funding to the elite-sport funding agency, UK Sport, and Team GB won more medals at Rio 2016 than they hauled in London. All the major Olympic structures and facilities have found a secure and sustainable future. The stadium is home to West Ham and the old press and broadcast centre has become Here East, a new hub for tech businesses. In contrast with the relics of Athens 2004, these second lives are important.

Other parts of the legacy look less assured. Lord Coe wanted “millions” more people to regularly play sport. Although the number taking exercise at least once a week rose from 34.6% of the population in 2006 to 36.9% in 2012, the latest figures show a drop of 0.8% over the last five years. Affordable housing is another questionable area. Five towers recently completed in Stratford include only 8% on-site affordable housing, all of which is intermediate. Targets for affordable housing within the Olympic Park itself were revised down from 35%-40% in 2010 to a minimum of 20% and maximum of 35% in 2011, and a maximum of 31% in 2013.

So short-term delivery met promises and the legacy is good in parts. It’s not hard to find parallels with the short and long-term impact of the products and services we’re each in the business of marketing. How can we do better? Here are three suggestions.

• First, deliver an excellent product or service that exceeds the expectations of your customers when they first get their hands on it. That’s surely the ambition for most businesses, though it’s easier said than done.

• Second, and more difficult, get the balance right with your long-term promise. We’d all love our customers, staff or colleagues to forget the promises we made in naïve moments of hopeful enthusiasm, and instead look at what’s happened, and the surrounding context, and judge us on those terms. But of course, they don’t. We won’t stop making promises, because people need bold visions of the future to be inspired. But we need to balance these powerful visions with sensible, realistic commitments we know we can keep. Too many discrepancies between what we say can be achieved and what we actually deliver, and people will lose interest and even withdraw their support – like Boston pulling out of the 2024 Games bid.

• Third, be a source of added value and good surprises. For London 2012, the sporting celebration that most exceeded expectations was the Paralympics. London sold more tickets than any previous organiser, the British team won 120 medals, and the event marked a watershed in perceptions and understanding of disability. Nearly 70% of the British public feel attitudes towards disabled people have improved since the London Paralympic Games in 2012. When brands and businesses bring unexpected added value, and that value is rooted in real purpose, they can truly realise their promise.

Jon Bennett

* Photo credit to Frank Kohntopp via Unsplash

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