Olympics Fun to Watch but a Terrible Investment

At the Olympics in China, every color was represented… and that was just the drinking water. Evan Sayet

I recently read that the Minister of State for Small Business and Tourism in Canada thinks that there are “great upcoming opportunities, including the Pan Am Games” to draw in tourist dollars to Canada. Well yes, I do understand that politicians who are not known for their business acumen think the Olympics and similar sporting events are going to fill up the cash registers in the community they are held.

Of course if any of them would do their homework they would remember the Mayor of Montreal, Jean Drapeau, confidently predicted that “the 1976 Olympics can no more have a deficit than a man can have a baby”. The Olympic legacy was a poor one for Montreal. The city faced 30 years of debt after the games finished. The stadium became known as “The Big Owe”, and its astronomical costs were only finally paid in full in December 2006.

However the politicians will tell you there is mucho tourist dollars associated with the Olympics, Commonwealth Games, Pan Am Games etc. The facts of course never get in the way of a politician who wants to make the big score by bringing home a big event for their jurisdiction.

Well, looking for an out-of-the-way holiday destination this summer – some undiscovered place that’s off the tourist trail? Try London. You might think the British capital would be jammed to the rafters with visitors flying in for the 2012 Olympics, which has attracted 100,000 spectators from other countries. But in an economic phenomenon that repeats itself every cycle; the Olympics have driven away most of the 300,000 tourists who’d usually be in London over the summer – a loss that far outweighs any tourism benefits from the Games. Source

By Jove never heard the Mayor of London telling us this was going to happen!

The results are dramatic. This week during the Olympics you could roll a bowling ball through Covent Garden without striking anyone. In Leicester Square, you can actually see the ground. Soho’s bars have plenty of patio seats available. If you have been to London in the summer you know that in any normal early August, these places would all be packed to the rafters.

It may go against intuition, but having the Olympics arrive in town has made London a completely different place .The central London attractions such as the London Zoo, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Westminster Abbey and the British Museum are all seeing attendance figures down 30 to 35 per cent last week compared to the same week last year. As a result there are no queues and tickets are easy to get.

“Olympics would earn billions, we were told. Some hope!” the Daily Mail tabloid harrumphed this week.”

The hotel industry is suffering from the lowest booking levels in years.  58 per cent of Britain’s hoteliers felt that the Olympics and the Diamond Jubilee have been “non-events” that have had a “negative impact” on business.

Bloody awful! Has anyone briefed her majesty and her entourage?

The result has been a mass selloff of empty rooms. Rooms at four-star hotels in Bloomsbury and St. Paul’s are going for less than £170, £80 to £100 below their usual summer rates.

Further from the Olympic site, the Hilton Paddington (do they serve marmalade sandwiches?) was dumping its rooms for less than £120, and rooms in decent three-star hotels in West London were easy to find for less than £100.  London hotel prices are on average now 25 per cent lower than usual.

Gawd Blimey, London’s legendary West End theatres have been devastated; their expensive plays largely ignored by crowds that are more interested in the real-life drama of sports.  Theatre owners say they are “bleeding,” and a number of long-running plays will be closing due to lack of advance-ticket demand.

Jolly good show! Not!

Restaurants have been hit particularly hard, having lost both tourist traffic and the business of many Londoners, who have fled to the seaside or stayed home during the Games amid warnings from the mayor that the transit system would be overcrowded. (London Underground traffic has increased by only 4 per cent during the Olympics.)

Thanks Mayor! That was blooming stupid!

There has been a marked fall in restaurant bookings … London restaurants have seen a double-digit fall, sometimes considerably more. Covent Garden restaurant, Porters, had seen a 72-per-cent fall in earnings.

I say, old chap! What a turn of events!

And the cash registers aren’t ringing as loudly. Customer levels in central-London shops last Saturday were almost 12 per cent below their level a year before. Even in East London, where the Olympics are located, shopping was down by 7.5 per cent.

According to the tourism experts the Olympic tourist doesn’t act like a normal tourist. They tend not to go to theater and other attractions. Their Olympic-based itineraries are usually so prescriptive they have to be at venues at specific times.

Well now you would think that this should be a big surprise to the Brits but it is not.

This devastation of the tourist market is experienced by virtually every city that holds the Olympic Games – the organizers – usually sports nuts or former athletes including Olympians who are well connected to the government in power predict great tourism benefits which never materialize.  (It’s no wonder politicians want to attach themselves to the Olympics and their country’s Olympic team. They give politicians a chance to show off their patriotism, tie themselves to athletes and games that are more popular than politics, and get seen on the boob tube.)

In any city that already has substantial levels of tourism – that is, virtually any city that could qualify to host an Olympics like Toronto, Montreal, New York and Chicago  – there is a lot more to be lost than gained from the Games. But the promoters of these sports events either do no not do their homework or are dishonest –take your choice. Source

While Winter Games don’t always fit the pattern, as they take place in smaller cities with fewer hotels and entertainment venues, Vancouver did fail to experience a gain in tourism in the year following its 2010 Winter Olympics. I can still hear the BC politicians and their minions telling the voters that the Olympics were going to be a “windfall” for Vancouver and BC. Well it never happened.

In 2000, in Aussie land, Sydney hoped to see 132,000 tourists during the Games, but saw only 97,000, and experienced no growth in tourism in the years afterward. I can remember being in Sydney in December 1999 being told by the folks who I met with in the Prime Minister’s Office that the Olympics were going to put Sydney and Australia on the map and bring a ton of tourist dollars . It didn’t.

Four years later, Athens had an even worse experience: Its organizers had hoped for 105,000 hotel guests a night, but received only 14,000. Not saying that the Olympics contributed to Greece’s bankruptcy but it sure didn’t help.

Well what about Olympic sponsors?

Recent news has drummed into us that Olympic sponsorship may in fact not be worth the investment. (Things the IOC never discuss)

Big brands have invested up to 80 million pounds (125 million US/Canadian dollars) just to be criticised – not to mention confused with non-sponsors. The London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) vehemently defends its strict regulations on the grounds that official sponsors must be protected and allowed a ‘clear run’, especially around the Olympic venues. On one hand, what LOCOG overlooks is a basic tenet of branding: it’s all about the consumer.

While they may believe they are in fact protecting the official sponsors by harshly regulating marketing and advertising, they may in fact be pushing consumers away from the very brands they are striving to help. Visa, for example, is struggling to put a positive spin on the “greedy” label it has received after any other brand was blocked from becoming an online credit or debit card ticket payment option at the Games, as well as the only acceptable card at Olympic events.

Thanks to a situation in which brands are essentially shoved down consumers’ throats inside official Olympic venues, Coca-Cola and McDonald’s are feeling similar effects. Only last week, news broke that McDonald’s has told the organisers to ban 800 food retailers at 40 Olympic sites from serving chips with their meals. The sponsorship obligations meant that only fish and chips have been spared the prohibition.

But what has not been taken into account are the post-game effects of such pushing. Will consumers use Visa during the games? Without a doubt – because there’s no alternative. Will they resent Visa once they return home? They just might. Source

So the Olympics are great to watch and like most people  am enjoying them but as a marketer I have to say when you look at the impact to sponsors and countries who organize these massive sporting events you have to wonder is this a good marketing investment or boardroom vanity.

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Blowing Money on Branding in Canada’s Capital

In my previous blog Branding Canada’s National Capital I discussed the importance of marketing as an important function for governments, particularly cities. I pointed out that in an era in which governments need to be more responsive and accountable to the needs of the public; marketing can help public sector organizations accomplish this goal. With public sector organizations spending significant dollars delivering programs and services, especially in the area of tourism promotion there is a need for increased efficiency, accountability and transparency.

I also pointed out that in recent years many cities and regions have chosen to market themselves in one fashion or another.  Such marketing initiatives characteristically suffer from a lack of creativity and innovation and fail to benefit from the lessons that decades of marketing experience in the private sector have taught managers in business. Such difficulties can be minimized, however, with overall expert marketing oversight and approach.

Finally I discussed the National Capital Commission (NCC) working to develop a catchy yet dignified slogan,  that’s meant to brand the capital region as a source of pride for all Canadians. The slogan according to the article is to be part of a five-year $2.5-million branding and marketing project that the NCC began last year.

2.5 million and you wonder what they came up with . Well here it is .

It’s a city where shouting, insults and arguments are encouraged in the town’s major workplace; where everyone seems to be either watching political TV shows or appearing on them.

On any given day, you might run into a former prime minister at a newsstand, or a foreign dignitary strolling by the canal. And on the nation’s birthday, Canada Day, it’s a city where people paint their faces red and white and pour into the streets by the thousands for a giant party.

But really, in Ottawa, they’re “just like you.”

That’s the brand-new, poll-tested catchphrase chosen to sell Canada’s capital to the rest of the country — and perhaps to itself, too. The National Capital Commission formally approved the slogan at a meeting this week.

“Just like you” beat out a couple of other contenders for the new, national-capital slogan — “the capital of being Canadian” and “where Canadian stories live” didn’t quite cut it. The new slogan is also a bit friendlier than one chosen by the city of Ottawa nearly a decade ago, when it was trying to re-brand itself as a high-tech centre: “technically beautiful.” Then there was a more a recent effort by some city councillors a few years ago to label Ottawa the “city of trees.” Neither tag stuck.

This newest phrase isn’t just for Ottawa alone, but the area on both sides of the Ontario-Quebec border that encompass the National Capital Region. But it’s not just geography; as some NCC directors noted at their meeting this week, the capital is also a state of mind— and now, that’s best described as “just like you.” It’s not about differences or diversity, but where we’re all the same. (Yes we are all the same here in Ottawa)

In polling done for the NCC by the Environics Research Group, “just like you” was deemed most effective “in terms of connecting on a personal level, catching attention and inspiring people,” according to a presentation given to the NCC board of directors on Tuesday.

Sample ads were thrown up on the screen, featuring various scenes with tag lines such as: “Green. Just like you”; “Grateful. Just like you” and, risky, in tourism terms, “Frostbitten. Just like you.” (Ottawa residents sometimes boast that only the Mongolian capital is colder than Canada’s, but actually, Ottawa’s average annual temperature puts it somewhere in the middle of the top 10 of the coldest capital cities in the world, including Moscow, Helsinki and Reykjavik.) Source

NCC chief executive Marie Lemay said the new slogan will be less of a big, bold ad campaign and more of a stealth operation, with “just like you” slipped into everything the capital commission runs. It’s part of an overall, $2.5 million, five-year marketing operation and coming up with the slogan reportedly cost about $100,000.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper will be there, making a speech to thousands of Canadians on Canada day and accompanying the Queen on her rounds. Just like anyone else on Canada Day — “just like you,” you might say.

Once tag lines and logos are finalized, the NCC is to start rolling out the slogan during events such as Canada Day broadcasts and Winterlude.

NCC chief executive Marie Lemay said it would be “integrated in everything.”

“You’ll probably be hearing a lot of ‘Canadian: Just like you’ in the next little while,” Lemay said Tuesday, after the board endorsed the slogan.

The slogan isn’t necessarily meant to draw more visitors to the capital region, but to get the area into minds and hearts and reflect its importance and relevance to all Canadians, the board heard.

(So we are spending 2. 5 million bucks to make us feel good but not to attract visitors to the capital… I am sure the tourism industry will be pleased to hear this.)

“Just like you” and “The Capital of Being Canadian” were found to be equally effective for making the capital feel relevant, showing off its importance and role and reflecting Canadian values.

The other slogan, “Where Canadian stories live,” was found to be “generally less effective in delivering the desired messages to Canadians,” according to the presentation made to the NCC board.

It cost about $102,500 to research, develop and test the concept: $42,500 for consultants’ work with staff, and $60,000 for Environics to conduct market research. Source Also check out the following link

So what has been the reaction so far to this great marketing event :

Kelly McParland comments in the National Post: July 2 2010 states the following

What is it with Ottawa and its desperate need to find a slogan that city poobahs hope will convince Canadians it’s more than just a boring place filled with politicians, bureaucrats and museums?

In a big announcement that almost no one paid attention to, the National Capital Commission revealed on Wednesday that it spent $102,500 coming up with yet another slogan.

Wanna hear it? OK, wait for it … “Just like you”.

Yup, that’s it. Ottawa, just like you.

What’s it mean? God knows. Only a city jammed with civil servants would consider it a good idea to spend $102,500 to “research, develop and test the concept” of a lame-ass slogan like “Just like you.” Apparently it costs that much to discover that people think “Just like you” is catchier than “The Capital of being Canadian” and “Where Canadian stories live”, two other equally lame possibilities that were considered.

Grow up folks. Slogans only work for cities that already have an image in the public imagination. The slogan has to catch that image, it can’t create it. Continually blowing money in the hope that some ad campaign will magically transform boring Ottawa into a sexy tourist destination is just a sign of rampant civic insecurity. And a waste of money, to boot.

Actually, we have to concede that its very meaninglessness makes “Just like you” less lame than the other two painfully earnest and truly astoundingly lame slogans that were apparently in contention, though the mind boggles. So way to go NCC!

From the Citizen

The National Capital Commission has hunted for a short slogan and come up with “Just like you.” While it may succeed on one level, it fails on too many others.

To be fair, that’s not quite the whole slogan. This was supposed to be the tail end of a variety of short summaries of Ottawa and Gatineau. The NCC wants to tell the rest of the country that the capital is, for instance, “Green. Just like you,” and “Canadian. Just like you,” and for winter sports, frostbitten, just like everyone except perhaps Victoria.

Focus groups liked the slogan, so let’s hope it works. It’s a big step up from “Technically Beautiful,” the last ill-fated attempt to brand this city.

“Just like you” plays to one of Ottawa’s strengths, our position as a comfortable place to live. As urban analyst Richard Florida noted in a recent visit here, we appeal to people who want a city with interesting restaurants and good schools and hospitals, but who aren’t willing to pay the price of big-city pressures.

In that sense, “Just like you” aptly conveys Ottawa’s democratic sensibility. Unlike Manhattan or even Toronto, Ottawa isn’t particularly status-obsessed and we don’t have huge extremes of wealth and poverty.

But in playing up the relaxed, Everyman aspect of Ottawa, we risk failing to make the city sound distinctive and exciting. We can’t be the same as everyone else and have a distinct identity at the same time. This is where the new slogan falters. It’s bland. We’re comfortable, yes, but we don’t want to be predictable. Would tourists want to spend money to come here, if all we can promise them is more of what they have already experienced?

Good slogans, pitches and campaigns grab you, and you remember the product even when no one names it directly. Sadly, the NCC’s phrase doesn’t have the energy or the distinctiveness required .

And by the way, is it even true? That is to say, are we really “just like” everyone else? Anyone from the capital region who has travelled in Canada knows that the rest of the country does not see itself as like Ottawa. They see us as a privileged city that takes their tax money and regulates their lives.

Auto workers enduring the recession in south-western Ontario might want to see Ottawa someday and same with western farmers whose fields are too soggy to plant. But to say that we in Ottawa, who thanks to the federal public service enjoy a certain economic stability, are just like them might not be the best approach.

Pretty depressed … wait there is still some hope…

“Hip” Ottawa has awoken from its slumber: report

Ex-pat writer calls nation’s capital ‘lively, smart, quirky’

By Vito Pilieci, The Ottawa Citizen July 12, 2010

What he found was a buzzing food scene, quaint and attractive neighbourhoods on par with New York’s famed “Greenwich Village” and “serious attractions” such as the Royal Canadian Mint, Rideau Hall, Parliament Hill and the Museum of Nature.

While the large institutions impressed, it was the city’s vibrancy that he couldn’t stop raving about.

“They (the institutions) used to be the reason for a visit to Ottawa, with restaurants and shopping an afterthought. These days don’t be surprised if you find the opposite to be true,” he wrote.

Kaminer said he particularly liked two Ottawa restaurants: ZenKitchen, a vegan eatery located at 643 Somerset St. W, which he calls one of Ottawa’s “hottest tables” and the Murray Street Kitchen, located at 110 Murray St., which he called “an aggressively Canadian bistro,” that “epitomizes Ottawa’s new spirit, with serious creative chops.”

He also applauded Ottawa coffee chain Bridgehead, where he claims he had the perfect espresso.

“Larger cities get the glory, but Ottawa’s kitchens might be some of North America’s best kept secrets,” writes Kaminer. “Creativity here arguably rivals that of San Francisco or Chicago, albeit with less ego, zero attitude and gentler prices.”

He then continues to praise the city’s vibrancy by drawing attention to the patchwork of communities that make up the city. During his visit Kaminer travelled to the Glebe, his favourite area which he claims reminded him of Georgetown. He also had high praise for Westboro, Hintonburg and even the Byward Market, “if you avoid touristy strips such as York Street” he states.

The article was being promoted by Ottawa Tourism as positive news for the nation’s capital, which has had a harder time attracting American’s to Ottawa since new travel regulations, requiring all Americans to carry a passport, took effect last year. In the first three months of 2010, the most recent period for which statistics are available, only 22,000 American tourists travelled to Ottawa. During the same time frame more than 138,000 visitors from Ontario and Quebec made the trek to the national capital.

For his part, Kaminer believes Ottawa is being overlooked by tourists. The writer is already planning a second visit to the city in the coming months.

“Ottawa isn’t Toronto or Montreal (nor do I think it wants to be). But it felt lively, smart, quirky and confident: a city waking up to its own potential after many dreary years.” he wrote.

Lively, smart, quirky and confident now that is the type of branding I want to see.

What do you think?

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“The Lifeblood of Tourism is Marketing.”

In my blog on municipal marketing I discussed the importance of marketing as an important function for governments , particularly cities.   Clearly in an  era in which governments need to be more responsive and accountable to the needs of the public, marketing can help governments accomplish this goal. With governments spending significant dollars delivering programs and services, especially in the area of tourism promotion there is a need for increased efficiency, accountability and transparency . With the managerial shift of the public sector to mirror a business-like approach, the adoption of marketing and related managerial practices can serve as a key component in strengthening accountability in public sector operations

I also pointed out that in recent years many cities and regions have chosen to market themselves in one fashion or another.  Such marketing initiatives characteristically suffer from a lack of creativity and innovation and tend to be out of the box campaigns , and therefore fail to benefit from the lessons that decades of marketing experience in the private sector have taught managers in business. Such difficulties can be minimized, however, with overall expert marketing oversight and approach.

One area where cities spend lots of money is in the tourism area. Tourism marketing is a challenging  area of marketing and requires a strong  marketing and branding strategy. Let’s take Ottawa for example.  Ottawa is a superb tourism destination. It must  be, because visitors still continue to show up even though this city traditionally does a terrible job of selling itself.

Noel Buckley, the president of Ottawa Tourism,  states that “The lifeblood of tourism is marketing.” So you would think that the city would have a great marketing strategy!

I recently noted in an Editorial in my local newspaper (The Ottawa Citizen November 14, 2009) that my home town actually had a branding strategy. I was impressed until I actually read  the key elements of the  strategy .

Ottawa Tourism’s branding strategy is based on   “four pillars” :

  • Ottawa as a capital city (Parliament Hill and environs);
  • Ottawa as a cultural centre (our museums and galleries);
  • Ottawa as a place to enjoy nature (the Gatineau Hills and green space);
  • Ottawa as an urban experience (restaurants and shopping).

This is it … the branding of the capital of Canada.  How did they come up with these “four pillars”. Is it based on marketing research?   Are the messages in the tourism marketing being picked up by recipients of these messages.  I actually checked a few web sites to see how Ottawa is described. For brevity I will just describe the Yahoo site. ( many of the other sites were not much different)

This is how Yahoo describes Ottawa

The capital of the second biggest country on the planet, OTTAWA struggles with its reputation as a bureaucratic labyrinth of little charm and character. The problem is that many Canadians who aren’t federal employees – and even some who are – blame the city for all the country’s woes. All too aware of this, the Canadian government have spent lashings of dollars to turn Ottawa into “a city of urban grace in which all Canadians can take pride” – so goes the promotional literature, but predictably this very investment is often resented. Furthermore, the hostility is deeply rooted, dating back as far as 1857 when Queen Victoria, inspired by some genteel watercolours, declared Ottawa the capital, leaving Montréal and Toronto smarting at their rebuff.

In truth, Ottawa is neither grandiose nor tedious, but a lively cosmopolitan city with a clutch of outstanding national museums, a pleasant riverside setting and superb cultural facilities like the National Arts Centre, plus acres of parks and gardens and miles of bicycle and jogging paths. It also possesses lots of good hotels and B&Bs and a busy café-bar and restaurant scene – enough to keep the most diligent sightseer going for a day or three, maybe more. Here too, for once in English-speaking Ontario, Canada’s bilingual laws make sense: Québec’ is just across the river and on the streets of Ottawa you’ll hear as much French as English.

I guess you will find the “four pillars” in this description but is this how the folks responsible for tourism in Ottawa want their city to be described?

The editorial in the Citizen goes on to say:

In many ways, the national capital ( which is what Ottawa is sometimes called when it  includes the Quebec side.) is not a very visitor-friendly place. The signage is weak. Visitors staying downtown will often have no clue how to find the ByWard Market.

“We need to direct people better, and that means big signs pointing to the major sites. Instead, we opt for subtlety. We’re so subtle that some sites are almost impossible to find. It’s amazing that we all aren’t stumbling across people driving Edsels still trying to locate the west end of the Ottawa River Parkway.

Our main tourism information bureau is located across the street from Parliament Hill. That’s nice, but most other cities — even ones with a much smaller tourism industry than Ottawa’s — know that tourism information booths need also to be on the edge of town to catch motorists. This is especially important for the capital region because most of our visitors arrive by car.

Tourism has a central role to play in the economic future of this city — a city whacked by the decline in high tech. It’s fortunate that Ottawa has a good product to offer, but as the folks at Ottawa Tourism are trying to convince anyone who will listen, even the best products need to be vigorously marketed.’

Well  maybe  the folks at Ottawa Tourism should consider a strategy and messages that will generate some excitement about this wonderful city. The “four pillars”  reinforces the perception that Ottawa is a tired, old bureaucratic city with “little charm and character”. Maybe the good folks in Ottawa Tourism should  take a trip to Montreal to see how you market a city .(yes I am originally from Montreal)

Perhaps we need a fresh approach on how we market this city. Ditch the pillars and start thinking like a marketer rather than a bureaucrat.  Only bureaucrats would come up with “four pillars” .

On another note I am pleased to be included in the new edition of ‘Effectively Engaging People’. The original version, produced to celebrate the first World Social Marketing Conference in September 2008, showcased a diverse range of social marketing opinion. But while many of the world’s top social marketers took part in the conference, there were some notable absences. This edition showcases opinions for top social marketers from around the globe.


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