Do you have your plane ticket ready to see the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, this August? In a normal year, the typical response would be something like “I wish!” However, this year’s more likely reply is “are you kidding?” And it isn’t because nobody cares about lame “sports” like badminton or trampolining (set your DVR!), it’s because the process of planning and organizing the Olympics has never been a bigger disaster. I have been a communication professional for a really long time, and I have never seen a global event with as much unrelentingly bad press as these summer games.
I remember news reports from a year ago saying that there was no way that Brazil was going to be ready for the games. Since then, almost every subsequent story I’ve heard has been discouraging: Brazil’s economic woes, the Zika virus outbreak, the ongoing doping scandals with athletes (you should see the arms on the table tennis players), threats of terrorism, rampant crime and case after case of Olympic facilities being unfinished or even hazardous. Most recently, Australia’s olympic team refused to stay in the athlete’s village due to “unlivable conditions.” Not only are there plumbing and lighting problems, somebody even reported a zombie outbreak (which was later revealed to be Bob Costas doing his morning yoga).
Are all of these reports reason for concern? It doesn’t matter. The key word to the first sentence in this paragraph isn’t the word concern, it’s the word reports. The Olympic Committee has proven incapable of controlling their own brand message. A brand is composed of touchpoints – from the time you hear about a product to the time you use it, every contact you have with the product and the company / channel that sells it impacts your viewpoint. You see a catchy ad, and that’s a positive touchpoint. You go into the store, but they are out of stock? Negative touchpoint. If the balance sheet shows more negative than positive touchpoints, you are in trouble.
So how could the Olympic Committee’s PR team have handled Rio better? They can’t cure Zika after all. First, they could have worked hard to better control the negative stories coming out of Brazil by offering to help those news agencies doing the reporting. More importantly, they could have worked harder to ensure that more positive stories came out of Rio. Remember, no brand is perfect. Touchpoints are a balance sheet. You just need more good touchpoints than bad. The Foxconn debacle didn’t stop Apple from selling a ton of iPhones. The fact that Netflix’s CEO regularly puts his foot in his mouth hasn’t stopped them from ruling the world of online content. But in order for your brand to stay shiny, you need more good than bad – a lot more – and Brazil has been a lesson in touchpoint failure.
I hope that the 2016 Olympics are a massive success. I hope that the U.S. handball team looks a lot better than that group of sweaty old guys with the headbands at my gym. I hope that the games are competitive and fun to watch, even if the process of planning them has been a mess. The Olympics need some good news, and hopefully the athletes can succeed where the marketing team has come up short.