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Beijing There: It's Not All Fun and Games

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The official theme song for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing is "Forever Friends," by Michael Kunze and Giorgio Moroder.

However, given the hoops, or in this case the five rings symbolic of the Olympics, that they have had to jump through to see their efforts come to fruition, some marketers might change the song to Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire."

Activation behind the Games, which begin Aug. 8, could hit $2 billion worldwide, via campaigns in the U.S., China and, as in the case of Visa, global activation.

NBC, which is putting more than $1 billion into the event (combined rights fees and activation), is charging an average of $750,000 for a 30-second spot, and said it plans to top the $1 billion in ad sales it set during the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens. The network will provide lots of marketing opportunities for companies as it plans to have 3,600 hours of coverage on NBC, CNBC, MSNBC, USA, Oxygen, Telemundo, Universal Sports Network, plus their HDTV and online siblings.

"We are on pace to break records for the Olympics," said Brian Walker, senior director of corporate communications at NBC Sports.

The theme among U.S. marketers, to no surprise, is unity. Bank of America: "America Cheers," via BBDO, New York. Visa: "Go World," via TBWA\Chiat\Day, Los Angeles. McDonald's: "The more we get together," via DDB Chicago. 24 Hour Fitness: "We are all athletes," via independents Suosdey Penn and Jason Headley, San Francisco.

Two months out, though, marketers have had feelings other than unity. Coca-Cola, Samsung and Lenovo (the only China-based company among the International Olympic Committee's 12 worldwide partners) paid $15 million each to become the official sponsors of the Olympic torch run, according to analysts. But protests en route regarding China's political and ethical positions in Tibet and Darfur forced those marketers to reduce their visibility and surrounding promotions. Separately, the earthquake that hit central China in May saw many Olympic partners shift resources from marketing to humanitarian, including Coke, Panasonic, McDonald's and GE.

This month, the Beijing Organizing Committee detailed restrictions for the 500,000 international visitors expected in August, including companies and the athletes who represent them. Among other edicts, people were told not to bring in "anything detrimental to China, including printed materials, photos, records or movies. Religious or political banners or slogans are banned. So are rallies, demonstrations and marches, unless approved by authorities in advance." During a speech in April, IOC president Jacques Rogge said, "We do ask that there is no propaganda nor demonstrations at Olympic Games venues for the very good and simple reason that we have 205 countries and territories represented, many of whom are in conflict, and the Games are not the place to take political nor religious stances."

Visitors to Olympic venues have always been expected to maintain decorum. "But this will be the first time many people will be getting this close a look into China, and everything seems bigger, more challenging," said Rick Dudley, president/CEO at Octagon, which represents many Olympians. "If you watch the Games on TV, I expect that NBC will address [political] situations, but in the proper perspective. They won't take anything way from the athletes."

Despite these challenges, marketers say the Beijing Games will generate more viewers and revenue than any previous Olympics. "We are very aware of the [political] situations, but I'm confident in our plans and our ROI," said Mary Dillon, evp/global CMO at McDonald's.

Meanwhile, China faces the challenge of being on a world stage in this type of atmosphere for the first time. "China is still unknown to a lot of people," said Rick Burton, CMO at the USOC. "So when you know so many people are coming to your house, you are going to mow your lawn."