Olympics: Top 10 marketing moments

The modern Olympics' 108-year history has been littered with brand opportunities. Chris Britcher selects the best.


When US runner Michael Johnson won the 200m and 400m finals at the Games in Atlanta he did so wearing a pair of gold Nike shoes. The stand-out shoes - part of a multimillion-dollar deal he had with the firm - were upgraded for Sydney 2000, when Nike coated the shoes in 24-carat gold, propelling Johnson to 400m glory.


Two days before running in the men's 100m at the Atlanta Games, defending champion Linford Christie provided insight into the art of ambush marketing. The British sprinter appeared at a press conference wearing contact lenses showing the Puma logo, creating a huge coup for the brand, particularly as Reebok was sponsoring the event. When it came to the race, though, Christie was disqualified after a double false-start.


The US got the go-ahead to field a basketball team comprising the cream of the (professional) NBA league. To the surprise of no one, they swept to gold. In what most perceived as an act of patriotism, Magic Johnson stood draped in the US flag as he accepted his medal. In fact, he was protecting his big-money deal with Nike by covering up the Reebok logo on the tracksuits worn by the Olympic team.


There is no doubt that being an Olympic partner puts sponsors in a powerful position, but the scale of success is inevitably matched by negativity if a brand makes a mistake. Computer giant IBM knows too well how decades of good work can be undone in an instant. As a result of a system crash during the Atlanta Games, incorrect results were given to the media and displayed on the official website.


It was only a matter of time before an enterprising sportswear firm devised an outfit that made the Olympic hopeful resemble an aquatic beast. In the build-up to the Sydney Games, Speedo ensured its name resounded around the world. Its controversial Fastskin bodysuit - an all-in-one figure-hugging outfit that was claimed to repel water better than skin - was probed, but not banned, by the Court of Arbitration for Sport and became one of the most talked-about enhancements.


In the early-80s, Lucozade found itself facing a new breed of sports 'energy' drinks that threatened to make its pick-me-up abilities old hat. One Olympic athlete endorsement later, and the brand was sitting back at the top of the tree. Following Daley Thompson's decathlon gold in Moscow, the brand signed him up for its advertising, added an Iron Maiden soundtrack, and brought about sales success for its Lucozade Sport product.


As the first modern-day Games were staged in Athens, Kodak seized on the opportunity to start a relationship with the event that lasts to this day. It took out an ad in the souvenir programme - the only way in which to convey a commercial message - and in so doing became one of the first brands to support the Olympic Games.


During the Winter Games in Grenoble, France, McDonald's seized on the chance to capitalise on its sponsorship of the event when US athletes complained of missing its fast food. Days later, McDonald's started airlifting hamburgers in. By Sydney in 2000, outlets in the athletes' village were serving more than 1m meals, and the chain expects to cook up about 2m burgers for competitors and officials in Athens.


Before the IOC found itself facing a battle against athletes using artificial means to shave milliseconds off their times, it benefited from the world's best-selling drug. In 1964 the IOC pocketed a cool $1m from cigarette brand Olympia to be a major sponsor of the Games in Tokyo. Tobacco companies were shortly banned from sponsoring the Games.


Cathy Freeman took the 400m gold in front of a home crowd in Sydney and became the first Aborigine to land an athletics medal. Crucially for Nike, she did so wearing something that made her look as though she had just stepped out of a spaceship. The Swift suit was an all-in-one outfit that made Freeman one of the most photographed stars of the Games and Nike, once again, the talk of the town.


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