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Brands Get Social for Olympics

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NEW YORK With the Olympic Games just a month off, some brands are looking to extend their sponsorships with social media programs.

Lenovo has created 100 athletes' blogs in an attempt to align itself with some less mainstream sports, such as field hockey and modern pentathlon. It gave the athletes laptops and video cameras to chronicle their preparation for the games.

"We wanted to do something that shows our tech prowess, not something that uses the Web as billboard," said David Churbuck, vp of global Web marketing at Lenovo.

Lenovo turned to Google for help with the program. Google is providing blogging software via Blogger and video hosting through YouTube.

In keeping with the ethos of the social Web, Lenovo is not hosting the blogs on its own site. Most athletes either had their own sites or established them for this project. Lenovo is adding distribution by highlighting the blogs on its Web site at www.lenovo.com/voices.

Lenovo has asked the participating athletes to show a "Lenovo 2008 Olympics Blogger" badge on their sites. Most have done so, said Churbuck. It isn't asking for any mention of Lenovo products, he added.

"I don't want to be in the position of telling them what to write," he said. "It's their blog, they can do what they want."

The blogging program is complemented with a Facebook effort that lets users virtually identify themselves with their country's teams. Federated Media and Citizen Sports created country applications users can add to their profiles. So far, more than 100,000 have been downloaded.

" A brand like Lenovo working within Facebook is interesting because that's the nut that a bunch of people are trying to crack," said Jeff Ma, CEO of Citizen Sports. "Most brands and agencies don't even know how to advertise on Facebook. There's still a lot of education."

Lenovo's not alone in expanding its Olympics marketing socially. McDonald's has also expanded on its traditional Olympics advertising with a social strategy centered around its first alternate-reality game. Called "The Lost Ring," the AKQA-created game has been operational since April. In that time, McDonald's boasts more than 2 million visitors in 100 countries have played it at some level. "The Lost Ring" challenges players to solve mysteries surrounding the Olympics.

"It's an opportunity to engage with the youth culture around the world in a very meaningful and creative experience -- one I'd say they can't get anywhere else," said Mary Dillon, McDonald's chief marketing officer. "We want to be on the cutting edge of innovations."

Dillon said the by-product of taking a plunge into a new area like an ARG is the rub-off effect it might give the McDonald's brand among young consumers.

"We would hope the same community would be a little surprised McDonald's is bringing this to them," she said.

McDonald's is pleased with participation rates for the game, Dillon said, though she admitted some of the extra benefits, like positive buzz, were more difficult to quantify than traditional ad metrics.

Those intangibles were the lure of the Lenovo athlete-blogging program, said Churbuck.

"The old model of blunt impressions, the billboard model, is not going to do it for me," he said. "I'm far more interested in how many comments we drove, the traffic to athletes' blogs, downloads of the applications. Those are more tangible expressions of engagement with the brand than clicks."

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