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Brands can learn from Olympians

Stephen Bradshaw
True Story...

The Olympics in Rio is now a distant memory for all the athletes and fans, but for Ireland, our news feeds are still being filled with more revelations about Pat Hickey and his ticket touting scandal. The saying, no one knows what goes on behind closed doors comes to mind here.

Thankfully a lot of people were able to park what Hickey and his cronies had been up to and focus on the amazing Irish athletes who displayed so much courage, resolve, and focus that has helped them already achieve legendary status.

I find the Olympics and most sporting events incredibly interesting. Not only for the competition but how people conduct themselves on and off camera.

Arguably our most talked about Olympians were Paul & Gary O'Donovan followed by Annalise Murphy, Thomas Barr, Katie Taylor, Michael Conlon and Oliver Dingley.

Ultimately these athletes are brands and while working in advertising I have found over the years that brands want to be trusted, want to be considered, want to be loved. However, brands don't just appear, in the words of Dave Trott, "Products build brands".

Taking these athletes, the way they've conducted themselves and worked so hard over the last number of years to compete at this level is essentially the production of their brands, various forms of media was the channel that propelled their brand.

I wanted to look at these athletes and see what brand attributes they have to create such engagement.

Gary & Paul O'Donovan:

Brand Traits: Honesty, real Ireland, pride, belief, unsullied by PR.

These two brothers hailing from Skibbereen took the Olympics by storm and set the tone for Ireland after they qualified for the semi-finals. Their interview on RTE won the hearts of a nation. What was so refreshing to see was the sheer honesty in their answers. Nothing rehearsed. We've become accustomed to seeing sports stars, athletes run off the standard response to questions and people are bored of it. The O’Donovan’s put Skibbereen back on the map along with rowing in Ireland but they did it naturally as the two lads from Skibb not elite polished PR trained sports stars.

Brands can learn from these heroes. So many want trust from their audience but, are nervous about being honest. You're either honest or you're not it is as simple as that. People can see through an attempt at being honest so brands beware, if honesty is part of your mantra then make sure you're honest, not manipulating or deceitful.

Annalise Murphy:

Brand Traits: Grit, determination, adaptable, self-belief, uncompromising

Another of Ireland's heroes Annalise Murphy won silver in the Olympics. This girl has an amazing story that is driven by, focus, determination and an unrelenting self-belief. Following the disappointment at the London Games where she just missed out on a medal race after leading for most of the competition, Murphy reset, refocused and put a 4-year plan in place and we saw it come to fruition in August.

What brands can learn here is that setbacks are inevitable. Some products or services will do well and others will struggle. However, it is so important that the people working on a brand stay focused and that brands who are in trouble drop any ego and adapt their strategy in order to succeed in the future.

Thomas Barr:

Brand Traits: Self-belief, courage, focus,

Thomas Barr raised the bar for athletics in Ireland. Sonia O'Sullivan was the last person to show the ability of Ireland in the long distance events however, Barr has shown the world that Irish athletes are good enough to perform on the greatest stage and not only perform but compete and push for medal places.

Barr's mental ability to stay the course and not get sidetracked by the event and the lineup was fascinating to watch. Coming from behind in both races he was un-waivered and faultless with his approach and his focus.

Katey Taylor:

Brand Traits: Loyalty, honesty, leadership

Without a doubt Ireland's most successful Olympian of all time Katie Taylor epitomises what it means to be Irish and none more than how she conducts herself both in and out of the ring. However, Katie has had her setbacks this year and unfortunately she had more in Rio. An athlete who was untouchable for so many years has now been dethroned in all her competitions. However, Katie displayed her true colours following her defeat and we thought it wasn't possible for this girl to garner more support, yet she did and she showed us all that through good and bad times you can choose to conduct yourself with etiquette and style and Katie oozes both.

As a brand Katie showcased her vulnerability through her losses however, it is her legacy of fantastic sporting achievements, her utter professionalism in full view of the public and constant affiliation to her roots evoked pride in those who watched her. People who have been through more tough times than good can see that it happens the greatest, and it is tough times when people more than ever need to dust themselves off and go again, unwavering and un-phased. People want Katie to succeed and her loyalty towards her fans over the years is being repaid in spades during her time of need. Brands who have a loyal following will only maintain that if they continue to have real, true, honest conversations with their customers.

Michael Conlon:

Brand Traits: spirit, pride, honesty,

Michael Conlon showed exactly what happens when emotion gets the better of you. That display of emotion was built up over four years of sheer hard work and determination and his words were the release valve in the pressure cooker. He didn't get the result he was hoping for and while his response and interview afterwards was Michael wearing his heart on his sleeve he won the hearts of so many Irish people. We all could see the hurt in his eyes and how gutted he was, he showed Ireland exactly what it meant to him to represent his country and what it meant to him to lose out on achieving a dream.

From a brand perspective, what can we learn from this? Essentially, speak your mind and stay true to your beliefs. If you do that you'll gain respect from your audience who in turn will look to support you in the future.

The Paralympics have begun and with that we'll see more Irish hero’s stand out from the crowd. These athletes are arguably even more impressive than our Olympians, let’s see whose brand wins the hearts and minds of our country.

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