Branded sports personalities at London 2012: ‘Lightning Bolt,’ ‘Mobot’ and America’s missing link

Mo FARAH & Usain Bolt / Photo: LOCOG

The US is the world’s marketing centre. It is the epicentre of brand marketing, where iconic brands that transcends borders have emerged. Americans tend to create iconic images or become icons themselves.

Great examples abound: Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Tiger Woods, Mohammed Ali, and counting. But not at London 2012. The US track athletes, especially the men folks, failed to gain global fans beyond their own partisan supporters who came to cheer their team up to victory.

It looks as though America’s dominance in athletics is not only lost on the track; curtailed by Usain Bolt and his imperial team of class act athletes, but also in terms of brand iconism in general where the US has led since the beginning of capitalism - whenever that is.

The ‘lightning bolt’ and the ‘mobot’ celebratory acts performed by Usain Bolt and Mo Farah respectively in London 2012 could be located in brand theory. In brand marketing leading brands have symbols that contribute to their recall and marketability in general.

The marketing literature shows that customers use signs and symbols of product as cognitive short cuts to recall and make purchase decisions.

Brand symbols, they say, act as simplifiers, aiding the customer to reduce dependence on detailed product information in the facilitation of the choice process.

When Sidney Levy wrote ‘Symbols for Sale’ he noted that ‘people buy products not only for what they can do, but also for what they mean’. This means not only performance matters, style adds to likeability and recall. Symbols enable us to remember the world.

They cause us to think of something beyond the impression the thing itself makes upon our senses. This seems to be the missing link for the American track athletes in London 2012.

Fans-linking capabilities as strategy for engaging global fans in a long-term, close-up relationship is missing in the American team. Something that we can safely say that Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake of Jamaica, and Mo Farah of Great Britain took for granted in London 2012 with their celebratory acts.

Although performance is the most crucial, especially in sports, we should also remember that humans are generally susceptibility to imagery. Hence the ability to connect both performance and acts that enable recall of that performance decades to come is also important. You could argue that performance itself is the act that should generate the recall, and without which any celebratory act is meaningless.

True, but we should also remember that as mere fans we may not have the opportunity, or the capability to recreate these great performances. For example, we all recall the dominance of the great Mohammed Ali in boxing with one thing, the ‘Ali Shuffle,’ which might be the only great moment that ordinary fans of the great man can recreate anywhere outside the ring although there are other great moments associated with Ali.

In athletics, I cannot recall any unique celebratory act associated with US track athletes. They all tend to be serious minded before a race, and the usual jumping and air punching when they have won.

The point is we as mere fans might not be able to recreate Usain Bolt’s speed and Mo Farah’s endurance on the track, but we have the opportunity to recreate the ‘lightning bolt’ and the ‘mobot’ signs anywhere we find ourselves in recalling the great moments of London 2012.

Same could not be said of the US athletes, not even when Aries Merritt won the 110m hurdles. From these thoughts it seems not only should the US go back to the drawing board on performance but also on likeability and recall of their athletes else they drop into the grave of oblivion.

The author is an expert in Political Marketing and related fields

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