If you think a lot of advertising dollars are spent on the Super Bowl, just wait. With billions of dollars in advertising spend expected around the Olympic Games this year, commercials will be sloshed across our televisions as companies work to impress upon us that they are Olympic-worthy brands.

This technique of advertising is known as “association.” By Coke, VISA, Citi, McDonalds and Proctor & Gamble taking major sponsorship placements with the Olympics, they hope to associate themselves with performance, dedication, excellence, and gold medals.

That’s all well and good and I’m sure seeing those ads will satisfy the egos of the CMOs who approved the multi-million dollar budgets, but branding is nothing more or less than reputation.

A company’s brand is the reputation that consumers hold in their minds. Reputations are made by the customer’s experience with a company, not by advertising. That’s the fallacy of all this money being spent. Sure, it generates impressions and good will, but if VISA provides poor customer service or my hamburger from McDonalds was terrible, then that experience will supersede my belief in their reputation.

This is why CMOs change jobs so often. They are tasked with the impossible – using messaging and brand associations to accomplish what serving the customer does not.

Now, are the Olympics a great cause? Sure. Will there be lots of eyeballs? Absolutely. And advertising with the Olympics may drive business. But until the advertisers are measuring the response rates and the actual revenues generated, how will anyone know? My argument is with the media buy philosophy and goals, not sponsoring the Olympics as an ad choice.

Most of the ad dollars you see at the Olympics is simply wasteful. It generates a little unaided recall and some temporary positive brand preference. In the end, companies who invest in product performance, excellence and are dedicated to the customer are the ones that will take home the gold—-the new customers.

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