Singapore finally got the Olympic hero it has been waiting for when 21-year old Joseph Schooling clinched the gold medal for the men’s 100m butterfly event, beating out contenders Michael Phelps, Chad le Clos and László Cseh who tied for silver medal.
It was a momentous occasion shared by the nation, with a barrage of brands jumping on the bandwagon in congratulating Schooling. While most of the congratulatory activations have been done on social media, some brands have even taken a step further by taking out print advertisements. They include DBS, Singtel, McDonald’s and Brands.
While the nation remained united on the shared success, netizens were divided when it came to the stunts pulled by brands. Soon after the celebratory posts started flooding social media, articles and comments followed suit deeming the brands opportunistic for pushing out their own promotions in celebration of the victory.
Addressing the matter, many media reports stated that the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) previously had a rule that prohibited United States college athletes from accepting prize money as well as brand endorsement dollars. However, due to the revision in rules last year Schooling, who is a Singaporean, has his door open to the world of sponsorship.
Marketing has reached out to SportsSG also to clarify on the matter.
According to Beatrice Lee, managing director at MP & Silva Asia Pacific, while the occasion definitely offered a platform for corporations to express their brand values, what local Singapore brands are missing out on in this instance is a chance to build sustainable and long-term campaigns that can develop into lasting and enduring partnerships.
This is especially since they jumped on to congratulating only after the win was secured rather than stick through the thick and thin in the pursuit for excellence.
Lee added that sports sponsorship offers a much bigger opportunity for Singaporean brands to benefit more than just spending on one-off post-achievement advertisements.
"It is a powerful way local companies can tap on themes of patriotism and positive values around sports as a vehicle to drive desired conversations about their own brand," she said.
However, she added, the positive takeaway is that there is an appetite for sports sponsorship in Singapore.
Agreeing with her is Lawrence Robertson, associate director at Infront Sports & Media, who hopes that Schooling’s success will be able to inspire other athletes as well as brands to fully embrace sport and recognise how powerful sports can be in the art of storytelling. He said:
In the case of Schooling, it will be interesting to see which of the brands quick to jump on his success last week will be prepared to support and invest in him over the next four years as he looks towards defending his gold.
He added that while sports sponsorship may be seen as risky by some, globally it has been done by many of the world's biggest brands successfully which have sport as an integral part of the marketing strategy.
“I think it's clear that the risks are much like a major brand or digital campaign. It's all about planning and executing. Too often sport and event sponsorship is an afterthought and is at the bottom of the budget,” he added.
Moreover, consumers are now quick to recognise brands which are there for the right reasons and not just abusing Schooling's name for some quick commercial gain.
“Too often marketers make the mistake of seeing sponsorship as purely about brand, but those who do it well see the benefits in staff engagement, community relations, building business relationships, activating consumer promotions and bringing their brand to life through unique and powerful content,” he said adding:
To be genuine, you need to be there when your team, sport or athlete is winning and losing.
Meanwhile when asked by Marketing whether their publications saw a spike in ads the days after Schooling’s win, both SPH and Mediacorp declined to comment. However, Marketing noticed during the live coverage of the Olympics swimming events, there were also no advertisers. Mediacorp did not comment on the matter.
Speaking to Marketing DBS bank, which took out a double print ad in The Straits Times on Monday, said as the former Development Bank of Singapore and the People's Bank, DBS and POSB has always been driven by a strong sense of purpose.
"Likewise, Joseph Schooling's journey as a young boy with a dream in his heart to Olympic champion is one of unwavering purpose and dedication. He is a huge inspiration and we join all Singaporeans in celebrating this Singapore son, and to say how proud we are of him,” the spokesperson said.
Commenting on marrying the social media post with the traditional medium, Yvonne Low, senior director, marketing, digital and menu innovation, McDonald’s Singapore said taking out a print ad was a necessary one as traditional media is still a key part of the marketing mix in Singapore – both from a brand and product perspective.
“Singaporeans, along with McDonald’s customers, come from a range of demographic groups and have diverse media consumption habits and our media strategy reflected that,” Low said.
“Given the country’s diverse demographics and media consumption habits, it was important that we placed our congratulatory messages both on print and online,” Low said.
She added, the decision to place the print advert was not an eleventh hour decision for McDonald’s but rather a planned out one.
“Joseph Schooling performed phenomenally in the men’s 100m butterfly heats and we were prepared to congratulate him no matter the outcome in the finals,” Low explained.
Moreover, being an official partner of the Olympics, McDonald’s could officially advertise during the biggest global sporting event. This year, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) changed up the rules for advertising for Rio 2016 when it loosened its grip. Brands were allowed to run “generic” ads that starring the athletes as long as they first appeared six months in advance of the games.