London 2012 will be the first Olympiad of the iPhone, Tablet, Facebook and Twitter era. Of course, the iPhone was released in 2007 – before the 2008 summer games in Athens but it was not until late 2008 that it took off globally and it was only in early 2009 that their rival Android smartphones began to appear and grow the overall market too. Likewise, whilst Twitter was launched in 2007 it was only in 2009 that it became a mainstream social media player. London 2012 sponsors and media partners are likely now planning exciting mobile, UGC and social media ideas into their plans for next summer – but what if this these ever more important platforms turn out to be an even more powerful tool – for the hijack marketers?
In 2009 sponsorship expert Kim Skildum-Reid published a piece in Harvard Business Review (HBR) titled Why Olympic Sponsorships Aren’t Effective – within which she pointed out how difficult it is for principles and Licensees to avoid the challenge of ‘hijackers’. The hijackers, whilst not forking out for sponsorships and licences are able to run cheeky and stunt-like tactical promotions that can often steal the thunder of official players who try to play by the rules. At the 2010 FIFA World Cup, many will recall that Budweiser was the official beer. However, many will also remember that hijack marketer Bavaria Beer imported 36 bright orange mini skirted beautiful blonde girls for the Holland V Denmark game. Not surprisingly, TV cameramen and directors focused on 36 models, all dressed the same, rather than the more traditionally bellied Dutch supporters. By the time the girls were removed from the stadium, Bavaria Beer’s cheeky promotion had already succeeded in being seen across the world, despite the fact they had nothing to do with the FIFA World Cup. (BTW – An interesting aside irony, no branding or beer was associated with the Bavaria models at the match – it was only witin the massive subsequent press coverage that the girls were linked with Bavaria Beer). Hijack marketers such as Bavaria are despised by rights owners and events managers but many have a begrudging respect for their audacious marketing terrorist like tactics. Skildum-Reid points out that the marketers who often obey the rules end up ‘trying to do gymnastics in a straitjacket’ – and she’s right. Having run promotions myself as both Licensee and Licensor, too much time can be spent balancing contractual risks, talking to lawyers and placating parties in disputes, rather than actually running promotions. Whilst official sponsors and Licensees have to work within their straightjacket – and debating what they can and cannot do cheeky hijack marketers may opt to take the risk and just do it. And preventing them using social media tactics may be a lot more difficult to manage than throwing out 36 blondes from a football stadium. As PR’s and marketers have discovered (see Nestle’s infamous issues with their Facebook page for Kit Kat) – trying to control a popular consumer based movement, built within social media and using virals, is almost impossible. Once a viral type campaign evolves, it could be a hard thing to stop. A hijack marketer merely needs to set the spark and rely upon consumers and social media to get the fire burning. So what should official sponsors and Licensees at London 2012 do? Brief lots of lawyers to have them on standby, reading and watching everything on Twitter and Facebook? I don’t think so. Instead they need to aggressively produce their own promotions in social media so that they can ‘own’ as much of the space as possible and deny the hijack marketers a gap to work in. Unfortunately many marketers look on rights as a simple promotional tactic and do not look to be creative with execution. They turn to reliable tools; a special pack, logos on tee shirts and consumer promotion to win tickets. With social media, rights owners and marketers will often want to promote their status as the ‘official’ voice of authenticity but the danger is that too often they appear like like ‘dad dancing at the disco’. If Licensees and rights owners really want to stop the hijack marketers building a social media or stunt based fire in 2012 they need to be as creative and bullish as the cheeky ones. Perhaps, if Budweiser had been seen to be more daring and aggressive with their own in-stadium promotions in South Africa, Bavaria Beer would have had less of an opportunity. To catch a thief, you need to think like a thief. To put off the hijack marketers, 2012 rights owners need to think more like the hijack marketers – and find of the social media equivilent of 36 blondes, rather than talk to 36 lawyers.