I leave for a Beijing a week from Monday. I have my credentials – a big plastic placard that will hang around my neck; a new PC, pretty much configured, debugged, and ready to go; a high end digital camera; a FlipCam, a QIK phone (on its way), and hopes that all of my online life – from this blog to Flickr, YouTube to FriendFeed, are all accessible from my hotel, our command center, and the Olympic venues.
I’ll figure out WAN access when I get there. Right now this X200 is without an integrated WAN card, which is just as well. I figure I’ll buy a PC Card for my domestic Verizon EVDO, and do the same in China for a GRPS provider. I’m tempted to go buy an AT&T card but I worry about China’s mobile standards and figure it best to work that out in China in ten days.
I’m heading over to Beijing on August 4 for the duration of the Olympics, supporting our Olympic sponsorship team, helping out wherever I can, but focusing my attention on our Olympic athlete blogging program, the culmination of more than 18 months of intense planning and execution in what has been one of the more exciting but complex launches I’ve been involved with. I expect whatever challenges I face in blogging from the scene will also be faced by the athletes, who, for the first time, are permitted to blog during the Games by the International Olympic Committee. I have not had any direct interactions with the IOC or the Beijing Olympic Committee for the Olympic Games (BOCOG), but I have tormented our liason to those committee – Yan An – by pushing the IOC and BOCOG’s limits on what is in and out of bounds for our sponsorship. Blogging is a touchy topic for the IOC, but credit goes to them for relaxing the strictures that silenced the athletes in Torino.
These are (to my slight buzzword discomfort) the first Web 2.0 Olympics. If Atlantahens in 1996 was the first Web 1.0 Games – thanks to IBM’s launch of the first Olympic website – then Beijing is going to mark another significant technical milestone thanks to blogging athletes, broadcasters grappling with control over video, DVR/Tivo timeshifting across a significant time zone gap between the venue and the audience in the West, and fans and athletes doing what they will with what they see. Putting this in perspective has been David Maraniss’s Rome:1960, a good account of the first televised Olympiad, one where an antiquated IOC under the draconian leadership of Avery Brundage made its last stand for an Olympic movement that transcended nationalism, forbade any hint of professionalism, and was beginning to grapple with issues such as doping and sponsorship.
Less than 50 years later and the Games are a massive media circus. Rome had no cute mascot or jaunty logo. The entertainment wasn’t choreographed by Steven Spielberg or Andrew Lloyd Weber but was a four-hour performance of Aida and a blessing from the Pope. Sponsorship was minimal and instead of marketers like me crawling over the athletes, Rome was the scene of frantic Cold War posturing and maneuvering between America and the Soviet Union.
So here we are in 2008 and I want to take some credit for pushing the limits on Olympic media, starting with the notion of who owns the content. In the Olympic media model beginning in 1960, the IOC sold the broadcast rights to a select number of well-heeled broadcasters. NBC paid under $500,000 for Rome. Wordlwide rights went for a reported $1.7 billion, more than $800 million for the US alone! NBC is taking some minor heat for its online video strategy – withholding the hot primetime sports from online until they have been broadcast. NBC is also partnering with Microsoft to make that video only available through Microsoft’s SilverLight player – the new high-def standard for online video. The question for the broadcasters and the IOC is how long can they hold onto the exclusive rights to the images coming from the events. The athletes are prohibited from filming or blogging about their performances, their competitors, or inside of the venues.
Lenovo has equipped 100 athletes with laptops and video cameras. About half are using our new consumer PC, the IdeaPad Y510, the others are using an assortment of ThinkPads. All of them have been given Lenovo-logoed FlipCams from PureDigital. We’re building audience for the athletes by aggregating their feeds and buying lots of ad impressions. We’ve asked, but not required, the addition of a Lenovo Olympic Blogger badge on their blogs. We’re not running ads on their blogs, we are not hosting or administering their blogs, we don’t approve what they write, we don’t manage their comments. The only rules governing the athletes are Rule 41 of the IOC.
Some big questions are going to develop over the next few weeks.
- Web access. Will the leading social media tools and platforms be accessible?
- Will the athletes push the limits of Rule 41? How hard a line is the IOC going to take against athletes who capture and share an actual event?
- Will the broadcasters have to police instances of pirated video showing up on the video sites?
- How will the Chinese public follow the Games online? Will any Chinese athletes blog? (We’re sponsoring one Chinese Olympic blogger, Yang Yang, a veteran speedskating medalist but not a competitor in these Games)
I think I am very fortunate to have a front row seat to these sorts of issues. This goes beyond Social Media 101 and is the ultimate “how I spent my summer” story, my first Olympics, and doubtlessly a once-in-a-lifetime thing. I intend to make the most of it.
Back to the blogging program. First off, I am eating my hat on the efficacy of Federated Media and Facebook. I acerbically squinted at Federated’s FaceBook plays for Dell, and blogged a “we’ll see” note after listening to Federated’s founder, John Battelle, espouse the wonders of his ad network at an Ogilvy conference. Well, we’re just a month into the program and I can attest that it is working as planned. Big credit due to our partners at Intel – Megan McDonagh and David Meffe really pushed the program and helped us figure out how to design and pay for it. Intel CMO (and fellow sculler) Sean Maloney’s drive to transform PC marketing through innovative digital tactics is transforming PC marketing and the promotional plan for the Lenovo Olympic Blogger program has benefited from Intel’s insights. I won’t divulge numbers, but we’re more than 50% of the way to our target and the Games haven’t even started yet. The surprise? Iceland, the second highest country in terms of fans on the Facebook app developed for us by Citizen Sports.
Second: metrics of success. These sorts of programs in social media marketing desperately need to earn their stripes if they’re going to fulfill the promise that has the analysts and pundits, pardon the pun, all-a-Twitter. I told AdWeek in a piece that ran this week that I wasn’t going to use the Olympics as a billboard for gross impressions of Lenovo. Our TV buy, heck, our double-decker buses, will take care of that. I am looking for a couple things out of this program.
- I want some manifestation of interest and commitment from the audience to the athletes. Do they click through to the athlete’s blog? Leave a comment? Subscribe to a feed? Send a cheer on Facebook?
- I want some PR recognition for Lenovo. We’re the technology sponsor. I want us to be acknowledged for our technical expertise and innovation. Running an online sweepstakes to win an all expense paid trip for two to the Games is decidedly uninnovative.
I want to raise the bar on interactive Olympic sponsorships. I will not slag any other sponsors on their efforts, but let’s keep in mind from 1996 to the present no sponsor has exactly done anything memorable online. There have been beautiful websites produced and launched. Programs initiated which met their goals. But who can remember a cool sponsor web experience from Salt Lake City?
Third: post-Games. We need to figure out how to continue to support and activate the audience we’re spending so much time and money to develop. Three weeks is a blip on our marketing calendar. How do I take this audience and sustain it after the Games? That’s the next big question and I have no easy answers right now.
So, tell me what you think. The feedback we’ve received – from the SEO community on how to improve the ranking of the main blog page, from fans who want things we hadn’t considered, from our partners at Ogilvy PR’s 360 Digital Influence Project (who have done an outstanding job helping us recruit and manage our 100 athletes in 29 out of the 32 Olympic sports from 25 countries) – has shaped this project into directions we hadn’t considered when we started planning the play a year ago.
Acknowledgments are in order.
From Lenovo, Alan White is the project manager who has made this all happen on time, under budget, and at a degree of quality above my high standards. Our technical talent, Esteban Agustin Panzeri, has sacrificed his health and personal life to design, code, and launch this. Tim Supples, who manages Lenovoblogs.com, has chased athletes from Italy to the Philippines trying to get hardware into their hands. In China, Sheji Ho and Yan An have been explaining this program to the officials and getting us permission to do what we need to do with total tenacity. On the agency side, Rohit Bhargava and John Bell’s team pulled off a complete miracle in identifying and recruiting 100 athletes in 90 days. Kaitlyn Wilkins and Megan Padilla have been magnificent. Intel is an awesome partner when it comes to doing cool stuff online. Megan and David are really into this stuff and it’s nice to work with someone who gets it as opposed to someone who goes skeptical on every new idea. Neo@Ogilvy has managed the Federated/Facebook program with great precision, and at Federated, James Gross and Peter Spande have made believers out of me.
Finally, Deepak Advani, Lenovo’s CMO, really had my back on this one. He has been unflagging in his support for this play, in taking the chance that it would collapse and turn into a ghost town. When others disparaged it, when the crabs in the bucket tried to drag it back down, Deepak stood tall and made it happen.