Which brands were the winners and losers of Rio 2016?

Rio 2016 certainly had its fair share of ups and downs. In this article Dan Tunna, Account Director at Pitch, takes a look at the real winners and losers from the games.


National Lottery

A long-time Team GB sponsor, the National Lottery was one of the big brand winners from Rio primarily as a result of the record-breaking success of the British team and the constant upturn in fortunes since the nadir of Atlanta 1996. With Team GB collecting its highest ever medal tally many athletes were quick to pay tribute to the funding received from the National Lottery that enables them to train, prepare and compete at the highest level. In addition to the overwhelming advocacy from athletes, the National Lottery ran its own “I am Team GB” campaign highlighting its role in funding grassroots and professional sports. The activity included a film that shows a stream of animated lottery tickets flying through Britain, transforming amateur athletes into professionals.


Coke has been an Olympic sponsor since 1928 making it the longest continuous sponsor of the Games. For Rio 2016 the company ran a campaign across 50 markets called “#ThatsGold” designed to engage 13- to 19-year-old. The creative used footage of 79 athletes from 23 countries comparing Olympic athletes’ gold medal wins with people’s everyday ‘gold medal’ moments. As well as the print and TV campaign, Coke integrated marketing and experiential activity, including a hangout area for teens in Rio called the Coca-Cola Olympic Station, which will mixed athletes, music artists and influencers, allowing young people to engage with the Olympics in a more accessible way. Coke saw the most mentions during the first week of the Olympics — nearly 47,000 of them (according to Sysomos) — more than double of the next-best best performer, Samsung.

Under Armour

It’s always interesting to look at how unofficial sponsors align themselves to major events and Under Armour really stood out at Rio 2016. It was amongst the first brands to take advantage of the relaxation of Rule 40 of the Olympic Charter, meaning that athletes can now appear in generic advertising as long as it does not explicitly mention the games or use any exclusive Olympic and Paralympic intellectual property within the normal blackout period. Under Armour launched its emotional “Rule Yourself” campaign, featuring US swimmer Michael Phelps, ahead of the Olympics in March, fully compliant with the Rule 40 restrictions in that it didn’t contain any Olympic intellectual property. It ensured visibility for itself though by sponsoring a further 250 athletes and renting a series of outdoor gyms in Rio to set up marketing outposts and host daily workouts for fans during the games. According to Amobee, digital-content engagement around Under Armour on Twitter increased by 83 percent since the start of the Olympics. A lot of the credit goes directly to the Phelps partnership — as 45 percent of all the engagement between August 5 and 17 was Phelps-related.


International Olympic Committee

The IOC has been plagued with issues throughout Rio 2016 which have threatened to undermine the Olympic brand itself. On the eve of the Games anti-doping groups accused them of putting politics and business ahead of clean sport in response to state-sponsored doping in Russia. When the Games got underway it was clear there was a huge disparity between the claimed number of ticket sales and those actually present with many venues worryingly empty throughout the two weeks. Apparently the IOC had been so fixated on making sure the venues and infrastructure was finished they had not marketed them properly. Add to this problems with numbers of volunteers and the funding fiasco which threatens the participation of several countries in the Paralympics and you could argue that despite a wonderful sporting spectacle, the IOC is one of the biggest losers when it comes to brand value.


As a country in the middle of worst recession for decades, a president who is being impeached and the Zika virus, Brazil badly needed Rio 2016 to be the greatest show on earth to deflect from these issues. And whilst there have been many memorable athletic performances during the Games, there was a constant undertone that Rio itself was not benefitting in quite the same way as some previous host cities. The critical transport infrastructure that was only just finished in time, the appalling water quality in the sailing venues of Guanabara Bay, the spiralling budget and lack of transparency over legacy projects.  Add to this the sparsely populated stadiums, which further emphasised the economic problems the country faces, and it is questionable if Rio 2016 really has shown the host country in a favourable light.

Ryan Lochte

Lochte entered the Rio 2016 as one of the most successful and marketable swimmers in history, with 12 Olympic medals and sponsorship deals with Ralph Lauren and Speedo. However after fabricating a story of being robbed in Rio along with three teammates he left Rio with his reputation in tatters. Lochte and his fellow swimmers had actually vandalised a toilet door at a petrol station before having a gun pulled on them by a security guard. American media quickly accused him of a lack of respect both to the host nation and his fellow swimmers, who were initially blocked from leaving Brazil. Lochte has since apologised to the people of Brazil after “over-exaggerating” his claims but his behaviour is severely at odds with the Olympic spirit and it will be hard for brands to ever reconcile that.

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