VANCOUVER, Canada — Every two years that global extravaganza called the Olympic Games alternates between summer and winter sports. Next in line is Vancouver which will host the XXI Olympic Winter Games between 12-28 February 2010, costing the city in excess of $1.5 billion.
Over the weekend, Tyler Brûlé reckoned in the Financial Times that Canada is wasting an opportunity to re-brand itself to the world, using the Olympics as a communications platform like Sydney and Barcelona successfully did. Would-be Canadian Prime Minister Michael Ignatieff, on the other hand, seemed to have read Mr. Brûlé's mind, writing in a New York Times Magazine article the day before that Canada is not looking to put its own brand at the centre of these Olympics as that would be un-Canadian.
But like it or not, this is the first truly social media Olympics. A digital footprint of these games will be left for eternity on countless Facebook pages and Twitter streams. It is the first time that athletes, hailing from more than 80 countries, will be tweeting their experiences from the sidelines while spectators share their experiences in real-time, uploading photos and videos, documenting every Olympic second for their friends and family back at home.
Possibly the biggest marketing tool Vancouver has for these Olympics, therefore, is to simply show its guests — the thousands of athletes and tourists who will descend on the city — a great time. Real people will be the biggest ambassadors and communicators for this Olympic games, not reporters or television anchors.
And, despite the presence of rules for on how social media can be used, communication will be tough to control. Tweets will spread like wildfire. Doping scandals will be reported instantaneously. News will get out fast, whether the city or the Olympics organisers want it to. Indeed, CNN reported this weekend that athletes are already confused about what they can and cannot say on Twitter and Facebook.
So what will Vancouver have in store for its guests? On a visit there at the end of last year I noticed that Granville Street, the historically seedy street previously flush with dodgy movie theatres, pinball arcades, and sex shops had been transformed into a neon-lit boulevard, the newly christened entertainment district where people will gather to celebrate each night of the 16 day event.
In David Lam Park, international consumer and electronics brands such as Coke, Samsung, Acer and Panasonic will exploit social media to create buzz about their Olympics sponsorships with high-profile, experiential pavilions, bolstered with digital technology. At the Coca-Cola Pavilion, for example, visitors will have the chance to pose with the Olympic Torch and share it immediately on their Facebook pages. iCoke.ca, a bespoke website designed to spread the Coca-Cola Olympics experience using social media tools
Of course, fashion brands have also been making the most of the Olympics branding opportunity. After losing their bid to be the official clothing outfitter for the games, clever Vancouver-based yoga-wear brand Lululemon produced their own collection entitled "Cool Sporting Event That Takes Place in British Columbia Between 2009 & 2011 Edition," drawing ire from Olympics organisers and attracting much PR buzz for their bold move against one of the most highly-protected brands in the world.
For their part, the official clothing sponsor, the historic Hudson's Bay Company, isn't doing so badly either. In a sign that value is still the most powerful word in today's fashion economy, the unsurpassed fashion it-item of these Olympics is a pair of red wool HBC mittens, offered at the reasonable price of $10. More than two million pairs were expected to be sold by the close of the games, and shortages and sell-outs have been widely reported in the months leading up. They are the hottest ticket in town, and accessible to almost everyone.
You can be sure they will make many appearances on all those Facebook pages.
Imran Amed is Founder and Editor of the Business of Fashion.
A video from CTV News describes the HBC Olympics mittens frenzy