Yohan Blake features in an Olympic media-marketing coup

Media Corner

Clare Forrester

Wednesday, August 29, 2012    

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One of the most successful advertising coups pulled off at the London Olympics featured our own Jamaican sprinter Yohan Blake. This was very much another example of how large Jamaicans appeared at these games. The advertising coup was the creative promotion strategy of a previously little known watchmaker Richard Mille. Only the rich and famous who have a thing about watches would probably have been familiar with the name Richard Mille prior to London 2012, but a very shrewd marketing move by the manufacturer elevated the name of this brand globally, at least for a while, beyond its better known rival Omega, although the latter was a major official sponsor of the Games.

By now everyone knows that Jamaica's 100/200-metre silver medallist Yohan Blake was designated an ambassador for the Richard Mille watch, which he apparently wore from the preliminary rounds of his first event, the 100 metres. The breaking news that followed the 100 metres was that Blake faced a hefty fine by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which has strong regulations against invasive marketing techniques by non-sponsors. The thing is that the announcement that the sprinter was under investigation for wearing the watch worked in favour of Richard Mille who received publicity beyond the company's wildest expectations. The large and distinctive yellow, green and black timepiece showed up in a plethora of photographs of Blake after the 100-metre finals, providing lucrative exposure for the celebrity watchmaker.

The same story was tweaked repeatedly in the days following the

100-metre finals, in several media outlets, using different leads. Some examples were: "Where are some places you might wear a $500,000 watch?"; "Usain Bolt may still be the Jamaican runner that's on everyone's radar, but it looks like Yohan Blake is getting some attention - and not just for his athleticism."; "Yohan Blake Wears Richard Mille wristwatch at London Olympics."; "Yohan Blake and Richard Mille give us a poke in the eye." And before the 200 finals: "Watch for Blake's watch."

Those of us who, prior to that announcement, were blissfully unaware of this impressive-looking timepiece, could not miss it by the time Blake appeared in the 200 metres with a little help from the television cameras. The sceptics among us contended that the initial announcement that Blake was under IOC investigation was a deliberate leak by those allied to the product. That nothing further was heard of the investigation, although Blake continued to be seen wearing the watch, may have had something to do with the fact that several other athletes wore watches and other jewellery not marketed by official sponsors.

It's a safe bet that by agreeing to wear the watch, Blake would have been assured that he would have the backing of the Richard Mille contingent in the event of any fine imposed by the IOC. The only criticism that I saw and heard in the media attributed to Blake subsequent to this announcement was about his long fingernails, and to some extent about his media-unfriendly "beast" pose. One thing was clearly in evidence: the marketing competition between Olympic sponsors and "pretenders" remains as intense as it has ever been - if not more.

The various brands spent more on these games than any other. As listed on the IOC webpage, there were 11 worldwide sponsors, including Omega, Visa, Samsung, and Panasonic, which have paid $957 million for marketing rights over the past four years, including their support of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. That's up 10 per cent over the $866 million spent by the worldwide sponsors on the Beijing and Turin Games. That's in addition to those listed as London partners and supporters. No other company besides those listed are permitted to promote their products during the Olympics, and legislation was put in place to guard against this happening.

Still, it has become increasingly difficult to prevent competing brands like Richard Mille from piggybacking on the Olympics to promote themselves.

Other happenings

One comment made by Trinidad-born NBC commentator Ato Boldon, "If history repeats itself, I should think we can expect the same thing again," was listed by the US online Empire Network at number five on a list of the top nine bloops by NBC commentators broadcast during the Games that they wished they could retract.

The Sunday Herald made another re-appearance this week, on the tail of a weekend announcement circulated by e-mail from its managing editor, Desmond Richards, that the paper would be back "after a break for restructuring and refinancing... with the usual feast of investigative news reports, biting commentary and social rounds". Other than those words, there was no explanation given about the paper's prolonged absence and perhaps significantly Richards' name is the only one now listed on its masthead. Given all of that, it is to be hoped in the interest of a more vibrant news market that the Herald remains in circulation for a much longer period this time around.

Congrats to David Mullings on making it through two years as a newspaper columnist. In acknowledging this milestone in Sunday's column, he noted that he still finds himself having to explain the difference between a columnist and a journalist or reporter, but says that he has got used to it. I would love if he would elaborate on this difference in a future column, assuming he sees a difference.


Readers should note that last week's column erroneously described Jamaica as 144 square miles rather than 144 miles in length. Apologies.





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