The London Games was an extraordinary spectacle, to say the least. The Opening Ceremonies—from Her Majesty’s 007 helicopter mission to the grazing sheep in the stadium—poked fun at the host nation’s eccentric and quirky stripes. But what about the real stars of the show, the athletes?
We saw some new faces, and some familiar ones we’ve come to love, who represented their countries with grit and grace during competition. But the Games were not without its fair share of scandalous news—the Chinese Badminton team losing matches on purpose; soccer goalies cursing out other players; Olympians who rebelled against Rule 40 that prohibited athletic participants from appearing in advertising during the Games. Not to mention, all the supposed “hook-ups” going on in the Olympic village!
But now that the games have been over for a good month, my eyes turn to the after effects of the athletes-turned-celebrities. Which ones have and will work to turn themselves into brands and cash in? Can a person BE a “brand?” There is mixed opinions about this. Some argue that one needs to be able to physically purchase and own a “brand” for the individual to be labeled as one; others believe it’s more about what the “brand” is offering or the experience it’s providing. I tend to side with the latter.
Take, for example, the Fierce Five gymnasts who grabbed the spotlight after the Games with their whirlwind media tour in NYC and elsewhere (they’ve been since seen on a variety of talk shows and even introduced Alicia Keys at the MTV Video Music Awards in Los Angeles). These girls have spunk, energy and are idolized by millions of girls everywhere Together, they have formed a collective brand that has great potential to succeed and inspire. But in the case of the gymnasts, McKayla Marone, we can also see what a little indiscretion can do to your image and how it can ultimately harm “brand value.”
American swimmer and 11-time Olympic medalist Ryan Lochte has also been all over the place in the media landscape—everything from his love interest in Blake Lively to his appearances at this fall’s New York Fashion Week to partying with Prince Henry in Las Vegas—and is an interesting test case for brand development. At this point, he’s really not delivering any type of consistent brand message. Consumers and fans aren’t really sure what they should expect from him, and thus haven’t developed a personal connection to him. Lochte might do well by modeling his brand strategy after more established star athletes like David Beckham, who’s been known for his, well um, good looks (his brand endorsements have consistently cast him in roles that showcase his “assets”). Tennis star Maria Sharapova is another. Known for being friendly but intense on court, Sharapova recently launched a line of candies called Sugarpova to reflect her personality and image.
Ultimately, a brand may not need to be something tangible. A person can act as “brand” as long as he or she positively conjures a memorable set of images and feelings, and can forge a personal connection between herself and her consumers. Just having status alone won’t cut it. Look at Martha Stewart or Oprah. They have to work hard to manage their brand identities and perceptions. It’ll be fun to see in the next few months which 2012 Olympians can successfully transition from athletes to celebrities to effective brands. This might be the biggest spectacle of them all.