Read our new manifesto

Olympics digital boss on marketing Tokyo 2020... again

For the second time, the one-year countdown to the 2020 Olympics has begun

Tokyo 2020 will forever be asterisked in history books as the first postponed Olympic Games, the pandemic-enforced delay meaning it is now the longest-marketed Games – a fact that presents a whole host of unprecedented challenges. Here, the International Olympic Committee’s newly appointed director of digital engagement, Christopher Carroll, tells The Drum how there’s no déjà vu with the new ’One Year To Go’ campaign.

Christopher Carroll is an experienced marketer, with stints at Coca-Cola, Heineken and Under Armour under his belt. His newest role, in digital engagement, was created by the IOC when it quickly realised digital would be the arena that makes or breaks 2021’s Tokyo 2020.

“We had to be able to not only talk the talk but to walk the walk when it came to going direct to people,“ he explains. While third party broadcasters will be doing all they can to get the most value out of the property, Carroll’s team is taking more responsibility for driving excitement this time around.

He is speaking to The Drum on the day the Games would have launched, but which is now the launch day for a new one-year-countdown campaign. The ’Stronger Together’ platform shares little with 2019’s output, but there is a renewed emphasis on fitness and togetherness.

The output is more “people-centric” and “digital-led“ than before, Carroll tells us. And it has to be – the public’s consumption habits have changed greatly and they will change again in a year’s time, hopefully for the better.

So Carroll’s team has a whole new year of content to deliver. This will include going inside the lives of the athletes, with social media like Instagram Live connecting people to the sports stars. Virtual festivals are looking to spread the Olympic and Paralympic spirit.

Twitter is driving personalised Olympic Flame emojis and torch lighting ceremonies. TikTok is also in line to do a lot of heavy lifting among the youths. Conversations continue with other platforms. Olympians are helping the locked-down public get fit with at-home workouts too.

With consumer and athlete appeased, there’s the question of keeping the Olympics’ all-important partners sweet. “It wasn’t a fresh slate, we had to make the necessary modifications to the campaign, like being digitally-led and integrating all members of the Olympic movement.”

Making up for lost value was key and it looks like an impasse has been reached. P&G just extended its partnership with the IOC and other partners are prepared to wait out the lull.

Airbnb, a new entrant into the space, was a particular cause for concern as experiences partner. Likely deprived of physical activation, the business, built around travel, accommodation and experience, was due a serious rethink. The virtual athlete experiences are being funnelled through the app. “It would never have dreamed having to take such a digitally-led approach,” Carroll added.

While the race into new platforms and formats is underway, there’s a new significance laid upon TV. “Let’s be clear, the role of television is actually more important. And linear is more important than ever.”

Linear TV consumption has been up hugely in lockdown. Furthermore, families have been gathering around the biggest screen in the house. “It’s all just media,“ Carroll says, rubbishing the once huge gap between traditional and new media.

No matter the platform, he’s got a North Star from his days at the some of the world’s biggest brands. “We need to think globally but act locally, serving a personal and localized experience,“ he says.

“If you’re a hockey fan from Glasgow and you exchange your preferences with us, we’ll be able to cater your content preferences through our own Olympic channel as well as through our digital partnerships.”

And like many sports providers, the value of archive content has been understood, especially on the Olympic Channel. These preferences could generate decades’ worth of relevant Olympic history and hundreds of millions of hours of engagement if fully realised.

Most people like the Olympics, or at least like some of the events. And Carroll’s role is in catering to all content needs – in format, length, channel, local preferences and getting the right events to the right people.

So what are the marketing lessons he can share from his time in the role so far? “You need to live agile, live the fans’ lives,” he explains, urging marketers to put themselves in the shoes of the public when making any decisions.

At the same time, he says, marketers need to adopt the Olympic athlete mindset. “Your training phase is only as good as your preparation phase. The preparation phase is only as good as the performance phase. And your performance phase is only as good as your recovery phase.”

You can watch the ’One Year To Go’ campaign video below.

Join us, it's free.

Become a member to get access to:

  • Exclusive Content
  • Daily and specialised newsletters
  • Research and analysis