In a few hours, the 2012 London Olympics will officially begin. For the next 17 days, the world’s top athletes will take to a global stage. Intense competition and drama make the Olympics must-see TV regardless of how many time zones you are away from the action. And, buzz about the Olympics has migrated to social media, creating real time discussion of the Games. But, the most enduring aspect of Olympic competition is the stories of the athletes. Event broadcasts are complemented with profiles of the personalities, going beyond the uniformed competitors to give us glimpses of the people participating in the games.
Stories define athletes perhaps even more than their performances. Their Olympic moments are influential in shaping their personal brand stories. I will never forget speed skater Dan Jansen’s valiant performance at the 1988 Winter Olympics. Jansen competed through the grief of his sister dying and experienced disappointment when he fell during a race. He experienced more disappointment at the 1992 Games before finally winning a gold medal at the 1994 Olympics. Frankly, I could not recall Jansen’s medal count (he only one a single medal in three Olympics). It does not matter – his story eclipses his performances.
Sports marketing expert Jonathan Norman says that an Olympian’s “back story” plays a major role in determining his or her suitability as a product endorser. Brands are comprised of back stories, too, so the more that an athlete’s story resonates with a brand’s values, the more effective the athlete can be as a brand ambassador. Note that while being a gold medalist helps an athlete’s marketability as an endorser, it is not a prerequisite for being a valuable brand asset.
I am eager for the London Olympic Games to begin, not only to watch elite athletes compete for medals but to learn more about the stories of the competitors regardless of whether they medal. A small number of athletes will win gold medals, and an even smaller group of athletes will win marketing gold as their stories attract companies that desire to associate their brands with them. Enjoy the Games!