We saw another year of brilliant record breaking feats, firsts and personal stories at the Rio Olympics, be it Team GB’s greatest medal haul ever, the relentless speed of Usain Bolt or Michael Phelps, the graceful dominance of Simone Biles or the cultural breakthrough of Egypt’s women’s beach volleyball team, whose Olympic uniform included a matching hijab. All of these present fantastic marketing opportunities in sports. However, this year there was something that went beyond sports marketing.
The IOC took a stand at this year’s Olympics, and used the global sporting event as a vehicle to raise awareness of the worldwide refugee crisis. For the first time ever, defying all convention, there was a team without a country represented at the games. Their flag was the Olympic flag, and the team of 10 athletes were made up of refugees without a country. Members of the Refugee Olympic Team – though they did not win any medals, competed in nine different events.
They were originally from South Sudan, Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Syria, however five incredible nations stepped up to be their surrogate hosts: Kenya, Luxembourg, Brazil, Belgium and Germany.
Visa, an official sponsor of the Refugee Olympic Team, sought to showcase the story of Syrian refugee Yusra Mardini, along with another 11 Olympic and Paralympic athletes through a ‘360-degrees of acceptance’ mobile experience, where consumers could view their stories via short, 15-second videos. The videos comprised powerful imagery and the campaign’s tagline "celebrating the acceptance of everyone, everywhere" to highlight the power of the personal back story.
If you crave an impactful sports marketing story, then just look at the 10 personal stories of those 10 athletes, escaping their countries, defying all odds and on top of it competing at the Olympics. These stories take sports marketing to an amazing new level. These are gripping, heroic stories and there are 42.5 million other stories of people who once lived normal lives like you and I, who have had their worlds turned upside down and become refugees. So many in fact, their population would make up the 33rd largest country in the world.
While sports marketing is important, there are many important issues that can be promoted through sports, for example the 22 Pushup Challenge that is currently being circulated on Facebook, where participants complete 22 pushups for 22 consecutive days, and nominate a friend each day, to raise awareness of veteran suicide prevention; and the Sport Relief initiative encouraging Brits to get active through sports, while raising money for communities in need across the globe.
By taking this approach the IOC has raised awareness of this global issue, and brands that see the value in showcasing the human story can learn from this.
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