London 2012  – The Campaign Strategy for Changing Hearts and Minds

London 2012 – The Campaign Strategy for Changing Hearts and Minds

18th November 2013

PMI London was a great event but by far the stand out presentation was the keynote by Greg Nugent. Greg was the director of brand, marketing and culture for the London Olympics and was responsible for everything from customer relations to the look and feel of the games.

I didn’t feel a simple presentation write up would do the session justice as they faced all the integration challenges we all face in our day to day and what they achieved was quite remarkable.

At the end of the games 89% of the British public thought that the Olympics were Britain’s greatest achievement in their lifetime. When you consider the backdrop of economic uncertainly and ill feeling towards the games before the run up it was quite a spectacular turnaround.

The Campaign

Greg was the brand director of London 2012 and often ended up with a very broad spectrum of responsibilities. The thing that he learned is that everything that they did was crudely copied across from other things that worked and integrated the hell out of it. He feels that we have lost the art of having a central campaign that is executed well across all channels and I can’t help but agree. Essentially his job was to ensure the central messaging thread was maintained through everything.

They had immense scale challenges. It was bigger than Obamas presidential campaign and therefore they had to create a way of doing it. They constantly looked at areas of innovating and areas that they could excel at.

In a way the Olympics are relatively predictable and there is an incredible hunger for tickets. People like Usain Bolt make your life easier. They just had to make sure they got it right. The Paralympics was very different in that the general public had very little idea and they had to balance selling that in very differently. The way that they positioned it was a brand that was willing to take more risk. Typically, in the past, ticket sales to the Paralympics didn’t sell well at all .That all changed at the London 2012 games.


In taking it on they took the same rigor on the planning that a construction company would. They identified the single most important part of their objective and focused on that. They had to distil what they were trying to sell.

1)      They were there to inspire a generation of young people to take part in regular sport

2)      They had to sell this to everybody. They had to get 80% of the country to love it.

In order to do this they constantly re-strategized. His advice was to be constantly open to new ideas as they may make the campaign amazing. Even when you have finished planning be open to new ideas.

Given the background of economic uncertainty they had an immense task to sell the games. 50% of people the week before pay day had run out of money. When they were spending 10 million quid on an event lasting a few weeks selling the Olympics was exceptionally difficult. They had to repair “Broken Britain”.

They went to research the opinions and found that the role models that kids have nowadays weren’t as good as their parents. In a world where parents are deeply sceptical about celebrity and the role models that aren’t good choices. They then focused on the true stories about the role models of the Olympics and the true sacrifice they made for their sport. Most were on less than 20k and lottery funded, far from the celebrity footballer role model as its based completely on hard work and dedication.

They sat in a room for 3 days and everyone argued for a day and a half as everyone had their own ideas and didn’t want to integrate. By the end of the third day they had alchemy where everyone was aligned with new budgets, integrated detailed plans and agreement.


They chose the toughest market (Hull!!) to do their focus groups because they felt if they managed to sell it there the whole country would follow. To target the younger generations they managed to add a weekly lesson on Olympic and Paralympic values into the curriculum. The entire training section of that was delivered online.

When it came to mascots they had two choices. One route was big ben with arms and legs which parents loved. Kids thought it was stupid. The second concept the adults hated and the kids loved so they went with the kids as they really have the influence.

Recruiting and training gamesmakers was a massively difficult challenge. They had 16 million people apply. They had to whittle them down and they used clever questions to do that. Gamesmakers also had a truly rubbish job as 85% of people worked in car parks and missed most of the games. They ensured they had a good trainer in Eddy Izzard for the games makers who was brilliant.

He continued to stress not to forget the human element. Cornwall didn’t believe them that the torch was going to start there and they were seriously worried that no one would turn up. One of the 19yr olds suggested phoning community centres and that worked brilliantly. They focus on making everything local and that was a key success to the games. They had 20 million people line the streets for the torch relay in the end which was a staggering result.

The lessons that they learned

Greg was really concerned that the trend nowadays is a hero worship to a hashtag. On one level that’s very clever but on another it’s not clever as nobody is engaged in that conversation. Our challenge as digital marketers is to create a balance between digital and offline and identify the most applicable channel for each.

They had no money so they used what little they had on a good database. The cost of content is tumbling and they made all their own content. He still thinks that British brands don’t get the data and work with that to deliver excellence. Treat data like its money. Get as much as you can and then don’t spend it unless you have to. 16 year olds have a very poor tolerance on the usage of their data. Don’t rush to big data. Get small data right first.

His final word was perhaps the most telling. In Greg’s opinion the next generation of marketing directors will all come from digital backgrounds and this is a fantastic opportunity to every digital marketer building their career now.

All in all the session was incredible and I truly inspired by what they achieved for the Games. For a quick emotional recap have a look at the video below and see how much effort went into every detail.

Written By
Louis Venter is the founding director and CEO of MediaVision, a Search Engine Marketing (SEM) company specialising in all areas of search. His particular interests are organic search marketing, paid search marketing, conversion strategy and online PR.
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