News at Smith

Media Alert - July 24, 2012 Smith Experts Discuss Marketing via the Summer Olympics

Jul 24, 2012
Top News


Faculty experts in the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business are available to discuss the London 2012 Summer Olympic Games in terms of the July 27 to Aug. 12 event as a global stage for marketing.

The Smith School has an in-house facility for live or taped interviews via fiber-optic line for television or multimedia content.

Roland Rust: The Big Picture

“The games provide a rare opportunity for large, multinational companies to push their brands to a global audience of billions. It’s a phenomenon similar to, or even surpassing the Super Bowl. For perspective on the audience size, Nielsen data shows the summer games in 2008 drew 4.7 billion viewers globally, including 211 million viewers in the United States.

Smaller businesses also can take advantage of the marketing opportunity by way of local advertising packages through NBC Universal, which will televise the games in the U.S. market. For companies of any size, the 2012 games bring even greater marketing opportunity from heightened digital/social media use. More content will be accessible and consumed by users on their portable devices for potentially greater ROI with lower costs to sponsors.”

Rust, a Distinguished University Professor and the David E. Bruce Chair in Marketing at the Smith School, is the former editor of the Journal of Marketing and has competed as a national class masters athlete and coach. He also can comment on media strategy, having authored “Advertising Media Models: A Practical Guide.” Contact him at 301-405-4300 or

Bill Rand: The Social Media Effect

The modern Olympics, since its beginning has functioned as a social event, as well as an athletic competition. The International Olympic Committee embodies this notion in its mission and emphasis on ‘mutual friendship with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play.’ As such, the growth of the use of social media with relation to the Olympics is almost natural. This will be the first Olympics with not only such platforms as Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and YouTube in place, but also with the use of those platforms and the prevalence of smartphones able to upload and contribute to conversations on the spur of the moment. Firms can take advantage of this intense use of social media to spin up their own complimentary campaigns that allow their consumers to become virtual fans of the Olympics.

Currently, we are measuring the effectiveness of these kinds of campaigns in the Smith Center for Complexity in Business. Though social media often is regarded as wild and unruly, the truth is that it provides brand managers and organizations with more data than ever before about what their consumers are interested in and talking about. Word of mouth has a greater effect on product adoption and brand engagement than traditional advertising, so tapping into and encouraging these conversations can be a valuable marketing tool.

Rand, an assistant professor of marketing, directs Smith’s Center for Complexity in Business. Contact him at 301-405-7229 or

Rebecca Hamilton: Athletes Competing for Endorsement Dollars

“Olympic athletes compete not only for medals but also for company endorsements worth millions. This competition for endorsements emerged in 1970s, when the International Olympic Committee began allowing athletes to accept endorsements and the United States adopted the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act allowing athletes to receive financial awards.

What makes an athlete attractive for a company sponsorship is not just athletic merit. Of course, medals are crucial. Apolo Ohno, winner of seven medals — the most for an American winter Olympian — has sponsorships from Coca-Cola, Vick’s, Omega and Alaska Airlines. Michael Phelps, with an Olympics record-setting 14 gold medals, has drawn endorsement deals with Speedo, UnderArmour, Kellogg’s, Hilton, Omega and Subway. In addition to medals, though, companies seek out likeable athletes who will be effective celebrity endorsers. Smiling for reporters and engaging in small talk before and after the event provide opportunities for athletes to brand themselves in a positive way.

Athletic success is most relevant when athletes endorse products for their own sport (e.g., Tiger Woods standing up for Nike golf equipment), and the importance of the athlete’s likeability increases when brands and products are less related to their sport. For example, Hilton’s and Omega’s choices to endorse Phelps depend heavily on his image out of the pool as well as his performance in the water. Academic marketing research suggests the credibility of a celebrity endorser is a function of both expertise and trustworthiness. As a result, when athletes make news for poor choices apart from competition, we should expect to see endorsements withdrawn more for lifestyle brands (e.g., Kellogg’s dropped Michael Phelps after a drug scandal in 2009) rather than for athletic brands (e.g., later that same year, Speedo extended Phelps’ endorsement through 2013).

How should athletes brand themselves? In the language of branding, avoiding scandal and chatting nicely with reporters are “points of parity,” characteristics all potential endorsers must have. In addition, successfully branding oneself as a celebrity athlete requires at least one “point of difference,” a stand-out characteristic. For someone such as swimmer Michael Phelps or speed skater Apolo Ohno, this difference can be a record number of medals or a shared characteristic such as growing up in the brand’s hometown (i.e. Phelps growing up near UnderArmour’s hometown of Baltimore or Seattle-based Alaska Airlines choosing Ohno as their spokesperson.) The match between Phelps and Under Armour also is powerful because the Under Armour brand is all about drive and determination, characteristics no one questions that the 16-medal Olympic athlete possesses.”

Hamilton, an associate professor of marketing, can be reached at 301-405-8270 or

About the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business 

The Robert H. Smith School of Business is an internationally recognized leader in management education and research. One of 12 colleges and schools at the University of Maryland, College Park, the Smith School offers undergraduate, full-time and part-time MBA, executive MBA, online MBA, specialty masters, PhD and executive education programs, as well as outreach services to the corporate community. The school offers its degree, custom and certification programs in learning locations in North America and Asia.