As the curtain came down on the moveable feast that was the 2012 Olympic Games, corporate sponsors are quickly switching from advertising, promoting and publicizing their association with the “rings” to measuring, evaluating and calculating a ROI to justify the millions of dollars spent. 

When it comes to sports marketing, many still consider the Olympics to be the premier event.  Most sponsors hope to reap the benefits of associating their brand and products with the ideals of excellence that the Olympics have come to represent.  More to the point, these sponsors are hoping to turn their sponsorships quite literally into gold through supporting advertising, marketing, digital and public relations campaigns. 

Companies who bought the worldwide Olympic marketing rights have spent years creating and implementing campaigns to promote their sponsorships to a local, national and international marketplace.  Estimate spending on these campaigns can cost upwards of $250 million.  Now, it’s time to determine whether that investment has paid off. 

With its “Thank You, Mom” campaign, Procter & Gamble created and implemented a program worthy of Olympic gold.  Not only did the commercials tug at our heartstrings and connect the company’s products to its target customers, P&G activated its sponsorship by helping to offset travel costs to London for more than 800 mothers of Olympic and Paralympic athletes.  Through this effort, the company is expecting to generate $500 million in additional sales.

Both Visa and Coca-Cola earned their place on the podium by doing a superb job of standing from a crowded field through creativity and integrated marketing.  Visa focused on a ‘social-by-design’ strategy urging consumers to upload text, photo and video ‘cheers’ for Olympic athletes and reinforced it through paid advertising.  And, Coca-Cola, who basically wrote the book on sponsorship activation, did it again through a multi-faceted campaign that included an original “Beat TV” entertainment series and Olympic Torch Relay sponsorship. 

Other corporate medalists include GE, Omega and NBC.  Not only did GE do a terrific job in connecting its products and services with the Games, it brought its sponsorship to life in real and meaningful ways by working closely with the organizing committee to provide infrastructure solutions to the venues including power, lighting, water treatment and transportation. Omega turned to music and the Rolling Stones with its signature “Start Me Up” song to reinforce its official timekeeper role.  And, despite all the challenges it faced with tape-delay telecasts and social media advances, NBC scored a major victory by producing the best non-U.S. Olympic ratings in decades and selling out its advertising inventory.  And for pure creativity, Nike wins for its powerful “Find Your Greatness” campaign and in-your-face outdoor and promotion executions, despite not being an official Olympic sponsor. 

Of course, let’s not forget the “marketability” of the athletes.  Breakout performers such as Gabby Douglas, Missy Franklin, and Allyson Felix will no doubt join recognizable stars like Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps, Kerri Walsh and Misty May-Treanor in garnering post-Olympic fame and endorsements. 

But perhaps the biggest winner of these 2012 Games was the London Olympic Organizing Committee, who made us remember what the Olympic spirit and the global community of sport is all about.  Despite concerns about security, traffic and an ailing economy, the Brits put on a comprehensive, entertaining and spectacular show that reminded the rest of the world that a host city can step out of its own shadow and shine the global spotlight on sports and the athletes themselves.  And have a little fun along the way. 

Many other sponsors and advertisers finished out of medal contention because they didn’t do enough to activate or differentiate their Olympic association beyond TV or print advertising.

Perhaps the biggest and certainly most controversial misstep was made by fashion designer Ralph Lauren, an iconic American brand and official outfitter of the U.S. Olympic Team, when it was disclosed that the uniforms were made in China.  However, like a gymnast who falls off the balance beam and has to get back on, they deserve credit for immediately recognizing their mistake and announcing that uniforms for the 2014 Olympics in Sochi will be made in America. 

The overall challenge facing the Olympics going forward and its ability to charge millions and millions of dollars for sponsorship is staying relevant to a younger demographic that has a myriad of sports and entertainment options at their fingertips. 

That said, as the 2012 Olympic Games in London proved, it still provides a terrific platform for companies to market their products and communicate their services and points of differentiation on a global, national and local basis.  When done right, they provide a great opportunity to roll everything – advertising, media exposure, sales & marketing, hospitality, and employee engagement – into one complete package.

Dave Nobs is head of sports marketing at The Lavidge Company, a full-service advertising, public relations and digital agency in Phoenix.  He’s managed a number of Olympic sponsorship campaigns for Coca-Cola, Reebok and Bank of America, among others.