With the 2012 Summer Olympic Games only a short time away, this year’s Olympic sponsors are fully ramping up for the event. In the four short years since Beijing, the demand for an even more spectacular showing from advertisers has been building, along with the continued rise of digital and social media. This London Olympics is being called the first “social Olympics,” where fans around the globe will experience the games and likely interact through Facebook and Twitter. Sponsors of the games are approaching their role unlike past games, using an approach called transmedia storytelling.
Transmedia storytelling is an evolution from fully integrated marketing communications that has grown from our increasingly digital world. While integrated marketing communications leverage one message across multiple platforms, transmedia storytelling communicates different things within the broader strategy (or story) across multiple platforms and multiple audiences. While it continues to establish itself in the vernacular of the marketing community, transmedia storytelling is fast becoming the norm for advertisers. Sponsors such as Coca-Cola, Visa, and Procter & Gamble are all approaching the Olympics through a transmedia storytelling approach to create dynamic and relevant consumer experiences.
Coca-Cola has been associated with the Olympics for the last 83 years, having one of the longest brand relationships with the event. For the London Olympics, Coke has just launched its campaign called “Move to the Beat of London.” This transmedia campaign is grounded in music but is being told through different pieces of content across multiple platforms. One key piece of content is the song produced by Grammy Award-winning producer Mark Ronson that integrates the sound of athletes mid-sport around the globe titled “Anywhere in the World.” This song is currently being used on television. Another piece of content is a documentary that was made while following Ronson on his journey of writing the song. This documentary was broadcast on U.K. television over the last few months to build excitement in the Olympics’ home city. Coke has built a Beatbox Pavillion in the Olympic Village where park visitors can come and “play” the building like a musical instrument once the Olympics begin. By the time the games are over, there will be over 100 pieces of content across multiple platforms as a part of the transmedia approach. When compared to the Beijing 2008 Olympics, where Coke had a mere 10 pieces of content, it demonstrates the scale and strategy needed to execute this much content across multiple platforms. This approach is the first to demonstrate the shift in Coke’s new strategy showcased in their “Content 2020” Youtube video, which says Coke is seeking to move from being about design excellence to content excellence.
Like Coke, Visa is gearing up for the largest campaign they have done to date. Visa has been an Olympic sponsor for 25 years, and for 2012 has crafted a transmedia campaign titled “Go World.” The campaign focuses on capturing the spirit of the games and celebrating the relationship between athlete and fan. Visa has sponsored athletes around the globe, calling the collection of athletes “Team Visa.” Athletes include United States swimmer Michael Phelps and gymnast Nastia Liukin. Each athlete has a short Youtube video documenting his or her journey from training to competing in the Olympics. Each television advertisement is in black and white, not showing colors or flags, but breaking down country barriers and tapping into a shared global sentiment. On Facebook, different platform fans are given the option to record a cheer for their favorite athlete. This gives consumers the opportunity to engage at a very personal level with athletes and other fans. Visa is planning on using selected cheers in Visa ads broadcast during the Olympics. At the Olympics, Visa owns the financial system and is the only card accepted at the games. Visa is also pairing up with Samsung to provide athletes with the ability to use ATMs virtually through technology called near field communication (NFC).
Visa has put social media at the forefront of its campaign and is engaging consumers on multiple platforms around the globe.
The third example is digital powerhouse Samsung. Samsung is a global sponsor this year and has built a transmedia campaign centered around technology. Leading up to the games, Samsung has created different pieces of content targeted to audiences in different countries. For the U.S. audience, the company has created what is called, “The Samsung Genome Project,” which is a Facebook game similar to “Six Degrees of Separation from Kevin Bacon.” This interactive game helps fans answer the question “How Olympic Are You?” by determining how connected they are to U.S. Olympic team athletes. In the U.K, Samsung has begun building “Team Samsung” with a lineup of all-star British athletes, including soccer phenom David Beckham and U.K. equestrian queen Zara Phillips. Samsung is also playing a large role in creating events along the Olympic Torch Relay Route. At each event, there is a 20-minute performance on stage followed by pyrotechnics during which the crowd is encouraged to give a “Big Cheer.” Samsung is capturing photos of the crowd during the cheer and providing the photo online so fans can go on and tag themselves. Similar to Visa and in line with its core product offering, Samsung’s campaign is predominately composed of social media and mobile elements.
For each of these brands, transmedia storytelling is allowing them to reach global audiences on multiple platforms in a more engaging and holistic way. The platforms available and actively used by consumers have evolved greatly since the 2008 Beijing Olympics. As the buzz builds around London 2012 being the most social games, brands can no longer simply use one or even a few platforms to reach consumers. This year’s Olympics demands dynamic storytelling, entertainment, and rich engagement cross-platform and cross-consumer. For consumers watching and attending the Olympics, there will be ample opportunity to be more involved and connected than ever before.
For marketers, transmedia storytelling is an approach that is a needed progression from integrated marketing and can be valuable on a much smaller scale than the Olympics. As marketing gets more complex with brands wanting to reach multiple consumer targets, more global brand expansion, and an expanding marketing toolkit, this approach is a needed evolution. To work well, the story must have a strong and compelling idea and then use different elements of the marketing mix to tell different parts of the story. But transmedia storytelling isn’t for the faint-hearted. It is a complicated approach that requires planning, commitment, and strong execution. A watchout—those programs not executed perfectly can fall short very quickly. But don’t let this discourage you; transmedia storytelling is the way of the future.
Katie Kuhn is a Brand Strategist in the San Francisco office of Anthem Worldwide, the brand development division of Schawk, Inc.