How the NZ Olympic Committee gave Kiwis something new to think about

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AUCKLAND, Today: The Face 2 Face podcast takes a look at how three iconic Kiwi companies changed brand perceptions. In the third part, we look at how the New Zealand Olympic Committee connected fans with its athletes.

Kiwis love pretty much all sport, so every four years the Olympic Games is a major moment for the nation. 

And New Zealand has earned a reputation for overachieving – at the Rio Olympics in 2016 it was third in the per capita medal table, and had the most engaged social media channels globally. 

While the excitement is tangible for two weeks of the Games, the challenge for the New Zealand Olympic Committee is to find a way to keep Kiwis engaged and attract sponsorship during the ‘in-between’ periods. They are responsible for raising every cent needed to send athletes to the Games. 

“Every four years people are going to turn their TV on for two weeks and they’re going to be glued to the screen and they’re going to love it. And then going to kind of forget about it until the next time around,” explains NZOC commercial director Sharon van Gulick.

The solution was a new brand platform to keep the Games relevant during those off periods. After a tender they chose leading creative agency Saatchi & Saatchi, which pitched the idea of #EarntheFern, a campaign showcasing what it takes for athletes to get to the top of their sport. 

The goal was to capture the attention of Kiwis through the shared values of the nation’s iconic emblem – the Silver Fern. 

“One thing that has united everybody is that idea of the fern, that sense of nationhood, and sense of pride in the black, the silver and then the sporting prowess,” Van Gulick, adds. 

“NZ has a reputation for overachieving – at the Rio Olympics in 2016 it was third in the per-capita medal table, and had the most engaged social media channels globally.”

#EarntheFern aims to unite Kiwi athletes from all different sports, integrating the cultural significance of Kaupapa – a philosophy around building a performance culture that values self-expression, respect and teamwork.

“This is a country with its own unique heritage. If you think about our branding, if you think about colours, we are very much our own people. We wanted to reflect that in what we came up with,” Saatchi chief creative officer Toby Talbot added.

The platform was brought to life through a series of videos starring the athletes, explaining what it means for them to wear the fern, which were shared across NZOC’s digital and social channels.

This content ranges from professionally shot videos created by the Saatchi team – sometimes in pretty hostile conditions, including in a blizzard up a mountain – and content generated by the athletes themselves, who can use the hashtag to tap into these interested communities and grow their own fan bases.

Talbot explains this pushed the team beyond the regular sports marketing paradigms: “There was a lot of co-creation with athletes. It’s not what I call a regular advertising relationship where you have a script that has been researched and everything is sanitised.

“We were just doing things on the hoof really, which is so cool.”

The impact of the new brand on public sentiment has been enormous for NZOC, which has already secured the highest level of sponsorship for the team it has ever achieved, nearly a year before the Tokyo Olympics, where it will send its largest ever contingent of athletes.

Van Gulik explains that ultimately it is working in making Kiwis engage more with Olympic sports: “When you compare our properties with other traditional sports our share of the pie has grown year-on-year in terms of share of hearts and minds. I think we’ve grown from over 42% to over 50% share of mind as a sporting event that people will follow, which is really important.”

  • Hear Sharon Van Gulik and Toby Talbot explain how they brought this new platform to life and where it can go next in the new episode of Facebook’s Face 2 Face podcast here

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