Cannes Lions | Article
Building a Better World Through Sport

“The vision of the Olympic movement is to build a better world through sport,” says Melinda May, Head of Marketing Strategy & Activation at the International Olympic Committee. She is joined by VML’s Chief Innovation Officer, Brian Yamada, in a Cannes Lions panel which explores how the Summer Games are reaching younger, tech-savvy audiences.

In Beijing 2008, May recalls, there was some level of digital activity surrounding the Games. That then exploded in London 2012, something of a watershed moment which led to the coining of the term “Socialympics.” And Rio 2016 will be the most digitally-led Games to date.


More “we” than “me” 

“Everyone’s striving for that personal perfection,” says Yamada. What VML and the International Olympic Committee endeavour to do is to capture that unifying human feeling, and “tell that story through different lenses.” That means creating content which reflects not just the diversity of sports within the Olympics, but the diversity of race, language, gender, sexuality and religion.

During the last Games, the vast majority of people stated that the way their team performed directly influenced how they felt about their own country. While plenty are quick to denigrate the so-called selfie generation, Yamada believes that for the most part, “people think more about national pride than personal.”

This was evidenced by the huge spike in UK engagement surrounding key moments of London 2012, such as the opening and closing ceremonies. And for other countries, engagement rockets at times when their athletes win a medal or break a record. In the lead-up to Rio 2016, broadcasters have been able to localise TV ads, splicing footage of local athletes into the videos, igniting that sense of national pride.


Forging friendships across differences

But does the International Olympic Committee have a rose-tinted view of the Games? Brazil is currently a country in crisis, and there are some who remain sceptical that Rio will be able to pull it off come August. And of course, we only need look back to the tragic events in Munich in 1972 to know that an event synonymous with peace can be a target for terror.

The shadow of violence still hangs over the Games, and May and Yamada both agree that it is necessary to be sensitive to such grim realities while still ensuring that they tell positive stories and embrace how different cultures are coming together. One of the historic Olympian values, says May, is “acknowledging the differences between people, and forging friendships across these differences.”

She also points out that the original “Olympic truce,” which protected athletes participating in the Games in Ancient Greece, has been officially resurrected, and that a modern version of this resolution is presented at the host city every four years.

And that Olympic spirit of unity, harmony and respect can be seen all over the world, from the Israeli and Pakistani children learning to play basketball together, to the Indo-Pak tennis series. “Just look at Jesse Owens and Luke Long,” says May, citing the athletes from opposite sides of the racial divide who competed on the same track during a brutally intolerant chapter of American history.

These are the stories being celebrated by the International Olympic Committee, and starting on Thursday 23rd June, aka ‘Olympic Day’, the Committee will commence its final countdown to the Games, releasing an inspiring piece of content each day until the Opening Ceremony on Friday 5th August.

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