Lenovo’s Olympic Blogging Program

A year ago I presented a plan in Beijing for how Lenovo would support its sponsorship of the 2008 Summer Olympic Games online. I started with the premise that no one in their right mind would seek out and visit the web site of an Olympic sponsor unless they were teased there with the promise of winning something such as a trip to the Games themselves, some Olympic-themed product or souvenir, or the typical contest or sweepstakes. If you look at the Web history of the Olympics, you’d have to declare the first web Games was probably Atlanta, when IBM launched a pretty awesome web presence in light of the technical state of the art in Web 1.0 (sure, IBM took grief for its IT hiccups, but the web site was great). Since then, all the major sponsors have launched sites or microsites for the Games, but no offense, the bar never has really been raised that high.

With that contrarian approach – “who in their right mind would go to a sponsor’s website during the Olympics” – I needed something beyond the strategy of building an interactive program around a public relations story, a sweepstakes, a contest … Lenovo already does that sort of thing, every sponsor does in one form or another. That’s a checklist item, not a strategy. Lenovo needs a strong catalyst for a young brand seeking recognition as a global technology innovator on a global scale. Yes, there will be television advertisements running, and the Olympic rings will appear on our magazine ads and on Lenovo products, but I think we need more.

I’ve been nagged for a year by the question of not so much “who” or “how many” would come to a sponsor’s site, but “why.”

Let me set forth some beliefs that have been lighthouses in plotting the course:

  1. These are the first fully Web 2.0 Olympics: however you define “2.0”, these are the Games where social media, tagging, blogging, vlogging … are all well established and part of the mainstream. Not only for the spectators, but for the athletes.
  2. Athens struck me as the first example of Long Tail media – crude as it was – in that NBC flooded all of its properties, not just the flagship Peacock Network, but CNBC, MSNBC, USA, etc. with a lot of sports, sports I had never seen. I found myself, for the first time, watching badminton and cycling, rowing and sailing, long tail sports the old media model never could support, focusing instead on the marquee events like gymnastics, swimming, basketball, etc.. Beijing, with its time zone differential, and the ubiquity of digital video recorders (Tivo), has even more potential to bring attention to more sports and exposure to more athletes.
  3. What is the Olympic ideal? The idea that propels the Games? In the end, in my opinion, it’s about the athletes. Some 12,000 extraordinarily talented and driven individuals and teams who are literally the best in the world. For me, the consummate athlete is not necessarily the champion who comes away with the gold, but the 11,000 athletes who won’t win a medal, the athletes who don’t have an agent, an endorsement deal, indeed, for some, even a glimmer of hope of standing on the podium hearing their national anthem. I want to know their story. My good friend Luis Felipe Gonzalez III, MD, skied for Puerto Rico in the freestyle mogul competition. He didn’t do very well, but the fans loved his enthusiasm. My old boss at 21i.net, Fritz Kaiser, represented Liechtenstein in the Montreal Games in judo. He didn’t win, but he is the consummate competitor.

So it struck me, in working to develop an online strategy for the Lenovo Champions – our team of superstar athletes – that if I were to provide them with blogs and video capabilities … why not offer it to a lot of athletes. Not just the Champions, but the “spares”, the everyman athlete, the person who competes for the love of the game, not the medal, and the potential medalists in the sports that don’t get a lot of television coverage: the kayakers, the archers, the scullers. And it dawned on me that this is a Games of unrestricted abundance. That with the right partner I could scale an idea for 12 people into 12,000 (in theory.)

That partner was Google.

Starting in August we began discussions at the highest levels about using Google’s iGoogle platform to build a sophisticated Olympic platform of our own. It is live, it is http://2008.lenovo.com. It, like iGoogle, is a collection of gadgets – content modules that draw on feeds to present a dynamic stream of customized information. We call it the Lenovo Olympic Podium and thanks to Google’s devoted engineers and passion for these sorts of things, we gained the capability to not only build and host this Podium, but also to develop the most important content stream in the history of the modern Olympic Games.

Here’s my big idea:

What is the main event were the athletes themselves? What if, using Google’s Blogger platform and YouTube capabilities, Lenovo could offer any athlete a way to share their Olympic experience with their fans, family, friends, even the world?

These are not Lenovo blogs. They are not intended to be advertisements for Lenovo or Google. I want to enable athletes in three ways.

  1. Hardware. Over 100 IdeaPads, our new consumer notebook computers, will be given to 100 qualified athletes. The qualification? Must be passionate, be a credible contender, and willing to communicate their story within the International Olympic Committee’s guidelines on Athlete Blogs (these are the first Games in which athletes are really permitted to blog during the Games). We’re also looking into giving them video capabilities through the built in web cam and other devices.
  2. Software. Google will power the blogs with Blogger (if it’s good enough for the Fake Steve Jobs …) and YouTube. Google is all about platforms. They have data centers with cooling towers (I think). These guys can provide infrastructure and innovation, a rare combination.
  3. Support: I’m going to aggregate all these blogs into one big OPML-Blog Roll, aggregated Olympic site. I want to drive the best of the network of what I like to refer to internally as “the IdeaAthletes” and get these athlete bloggers the connection with their fans that the mass media can’t. Ogilvy’s Digital Influence Project – in the form of uber bloggers John Bell and Rohit Bhargava are going to help me support the bloggers in the months leading up to the Games and during the competition.

What is the ideal scenario in my mind? The chain of events that will lead someone to declare success and not say “stupid idea, Dave.”

I want to see some valid give and take between athletes and fans. Period and full Stop. I don’t want to see ghost written homilies and comment strings that go unanswered. I certainly don’t want to see Lenovo emblazoned on these blogs or YouTube streams. I won’t expect any blogger to write a sentence like: “I love my IdeaPad and couldn’t have done this without the brilliant Mister Churbuck.” Nope, what I want for Lenovo out of all this is one simple piece of authentic, non-promotional recognition: “We were the PC supplier and sponsor to the Games who first enabled the connection between the fans and the athletes.”

The first athlete to enter the program is Drew Ginn, the Australian rower (okay, I confess to a bias towards rowing, after all, I did write the book), and Olympic gold medalist who is training now to represent Australia in the pair – a two man boat where each rower has a single or sweep oar. This is a devilishly hard boat to row and demands a level of synchronization and bonding between the two rowers that is impossible for non-rowers to imagine. Drew and his partner, Duncan Free, won the World’s in Munich last summer, making them the boat to beat this August in Beijing.

Drew has been our internal example of exactly what we’re seeking in an IdeaAthlete blogger. He uses Google’s Blogger, he posts videos on YouTube. He understands del.icio.us and Skype – in short, he’s very much the embodiment of a Web 2.0 Olympian. I am really psyched that he’s the first to come aboard.

So, if you’re an Olympian and you want to blog – ping me. If you already blog about the Olympics but want to do it with an IdeaPad – ping me. If you want to follow an Olympic blog – visit http://2008.lenovo.com and .. ping me.

Author: David Churbuck

Cape Codder with an itch to write

0 thoughts on “Lenovo’s Olympic Blogging Program”

  1. If there’s an Olympic napping event, my cats, one dog and i are up for this. I’m confident I can ywn my way to a Silver andon a cold day I can probably Zzzzzzzzz all the way to a gold.

    David, once again, yoiu rule. The post on building a scalable Olympic program is proof that you are without a doubt the best dude in strategic thinking about this stuff.

    Now, step up on the blkocks while we drop the Cotuit city flag and play some Dead as your anthem.



  2. Outstanding! I hope the athletes come through and really tell their stories (i suspect they will). Great vision, David.

    One question: is the “non-promotional recognition” metric enough to satisfy your boss and his bosses, or will they be looking for some other, more tangible measure of success?


  3. Very nice! I look forward to seeing this blossom as the event draws near. Any thoughts on handling the language barrier for some athletes and fans?


  4. Nice to see you caring about the long tail of sports. I love weight lifting and that gets almost zero coverage on television. With all this new fanged online video maybe I can watch some records being broken for squats and presses.

    Thanks for making this about the athletes, it always was and always will be about them.


  5. Love the idea and look forward to seeing it come to life over the coming months.

    Now just hope for wind in Qingdao.




  6. Excellent ideas to say the least!
    It would also be nice to incorporate the overall theme of each event that ties to each athelete not only to other athletes but the events as well. This can set the stage for “visitors” to create their own story. Pick your event, your athelete, your rival and stay tuned! Olympic Story al-la-carte….

    This way, not only can the general public develop a connection with the atheletes but also with the events themselves. These links can have endless possabilites of “human drama” stories. Like reading a book with 12,000 points of view. This can extend far beyond the actual duration of the games themselves!

    With great passion comes great stories.


  7. Very cool. One thing I’ve always enjoyed about the games are the sports that have no chance of becoming a professional sport. What comes to mind is curling but that isn’t on deck for Beijing…

    @Joe S – I agree with you about the novel from multiple vantage points but look forward to reading the blogs for the drama that isn’t manufactured and overpowering the athletic events themselves. I don’t need John Tesh and overly dramatic music to enjoy the Olympics. I’m hoping but not expecting that broadcast coverage will be more subtle.


  8. I am looking forward to working on this program with the whole team here at 360 Digital Influence, and I’m sure we’ll have lots more exciting developments to report as this program rolls out!


  9. David, I agree with the others here that you have struck on a very cool idea and I wish you every success. The old international development worker in me wonders if you can also find more than a token candidate blogger from the developing world where there may be more of a Web 2.0 fluency gap. Can you incorporate a deliberate way to attract and authentically support competitors from these places who have unique stories to tell but may lack the language or technology skills to fit the ideal model of a savvy storyteller who just needs to plug in to take off? Got any talent scouts in the developing world looking for these folks and a plan to support them? It would be a shame to have the wealthy nations dominate the web Olympics the way they do most of the actual events.


  10. Tim — yes, we are in discussions with bloggers from countries such as Cambodia. Lenovo is very much committed to supporting emerging markets and bringing technology to developing markets.

    Josh & Sam — fingers are crossed on open access come August

    Rohit — it’s an honor to have you on the project

    Peter — i too am drawn to the really niche sports

    Joe S — I think I know what you mean ….

    Chris — Athens wasn’t very windy, was it?

    Joe S — we’re looking an cross translation. gonna be a challenge

    Rob — always the metrics buzzkiller ….

    Jim — how goes Perro?


  11. Greetings,

    This effort is awesome. Thanks for making it happen.

    I have to seriously wonder about the platform choice, though. My concern is not based on technology: clearly Google, Youtube and Blogger are great choices for most of the world–except for China, which has blocked Blogger for some time now, and which periodically blocks Youtube when something sensitive gets put on that network. So how will the athletes use the platform at all, and how will folks in China (those who live here and those who are just visiting for the games) access any of the content?



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