“The question you have is how do you attract the worldwide audience given to you by the event, while also differentiating yourself from other sponsors willing to spend tens of millions of dollars,” said one marketing official at Sabancı Holding, one of Turkey’s largest business enterprises. “It’s a blessing and a curse.” Sabancı joined other prominent Turkish businesses this year in promising up to $20 billion in sponsorship funds to help support İstanbul’s fifth bid for the Olympics, an event which İstanbul stands a good chance of winning against cash-strapped Madrid and repeat Olympics destination Tokyo.
But the $20 million promise, described by the İstanbul committee as a “landmark deal,” reveals just how much of a challenge Turkish companies may have in reaching a global audience when contrasted to the sponsorship spending in the 2012 London Olympics, where companies like Coca-Cola and the Dow Chemical Company spent around $100 million each to be an integral part of the games. “How much can your own brand stand out relies on what market you’re really targeting and how you choose to do the marketing,” said Semih Yalman, a perception strategist and professor of administrative sciences and economics at Koç University.
“It has to be targeted and focused.” Indeed, although international sponsors are key in helping to foot the massive bill the Olympics would undoubtedly bring, it also forces local companies to decide on the best possible marketing strategies to remain distinct in the sea of labels, brands, and product placements. “That isn’t easy, especially given the creativity and the advertising reach of companies like BMW or Coca Cola,” said the marketing official from Sabancı. The official also noted that the largest spenders in Turkey are conglomerates groups like Sabancı itself that own a hard-to advertise range of companies, products and services. “It means that in the end, we should look at our sponsorship at least as a way of helping promote Turkey as a country to the rest of the world.”
Koç Holding head Mustafa Koç voiced a similar opinion this week and he championed Turkey’s candidacy to the press, saying that his group is “ready to support with all of our efforts our city and our country.” Koç called the games a moment to “show our unity,” a concept Turkish Airlines, Turkcell, satellite provider Digiturk, Doğuş Group, and food producer Ülker have also been eager to support in recent months. But behind that professed unity remains a myriad of other difficulties in Olympics marketing, and the broader question of how effective Olympics spending is. In the aftermath of the 2012 London Olympics, consumer surveyor Brand Republic reported that many people it asked to identify Olympics sponsors mistakenly chose companies that had never been sponsors, naming Tesco, Canon, Carlsberg, and other companies already well known in the UK as sponsors. None of them were.
In 2008 business magazine Forbes recorded similarly disheartening results about the sponsors of the Beijing games that year. Three months of surveying consumers in 10 Chinese cities suggested that around 80 percent of those Chinese consumers surveyed said they did “not care” about who the official sponsors of the event were, be they international or national brands. As in 2012, consumers largely failed to identify which Chinese and multinational firms had sponsored the brands, hinting that tens of millions in advertising may have done little to win over consumer wallets. Forbes concluded that brands which consumers in the poll were willing to identify with had “built up their recognition and reputation over time,” something that perception strategist Yalman confirmed as key to marketing. “This is not an overnight process,” he said.
The overall Olympic process isn’t a cheap one either. Head of İstanbul’s Olympic Committee Hasan Arat has said that more private companies are expected to come forward to support the funding of the Olympics, though it will have to catch up if it wants to beat Tokyo’s powerful sponsorship pool. The city’s Olympic committee last week said they have 16 official partners signed on and could secure $930 million in private funding if they win the bid. While İstanbul likely would be able to secure similar funding from abroad for its games, it begs the question of just how visible Turkish companies will be come 2020. “Of course, there’s a lot of room to grow between now and then. Turkey’s moving fast and by 2020 the dollars -- and the advertising revenue -- might be even better than we’re now guessing they would be,” said the Sabancı official.