In 2005 London was bidding for the 2012 Olympics.
The bidding was held in Singapore and the short list was: London, Paris, New York, Madrid, and Moscow.
Paris was the favourite; Sebastian Coe was leading London’s bid.
The same way advertising agencies would pitch to a client, every city would make a final presentation to the Olympic Committee.
In a pitch, every ad agency says pretty much the same thing: we have lots of famous clients, we have the latest technology, we have extensive research, we believe in collaboration.
They all sound the same because every agency wants to reassure the client.
Coe knew it would be the same with the cities presenting to the Olympic Committee: we’ll build a great stadium, we have great transport, we have great shops and hotels, we have lots of cultural venues.
Coe knew that every city would sound exactly the same.
In our terms we’d refer to this as market growth, every city is saying what every other city could say (a generic claim) so it ends up selling the category.
But Coe knew that for London to win it would have to separate itself off from the others, to talk about how it was different, to go for brand share against the others.
So Coe looked at what the London bid had that was different, and there was one thing no one had mentioned, Coe himself.
Sebastian Coe had won Gold and Silver at the 1980 Moscow Olympics, he’d won Gold and Silver at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, and he’d set 12 world records as the best middle-distance runner in the world.
So Coe’s speech to the committee centred on the fact that he was the only Olympic athlete amongst the all the competing bids.
So he knew what none of the others could know.
He didn’t talk about stadiums, or shopping, or transport.
He talked about what the Olympics meant to a young athlete, something none of the others could do.
He spoke about when he was a child and watched the Olympics in black and white on TV, how the Olympics ignited his love of sport.
He made the entire London bid about the future of sport for youth, for the next generation.
Coe made the speech that only he could make, because he’d been an Olympic athlete.
His speech was brand share, not generic like all the others.
His final words to the Olympic Committee were: “Choose London today and you send a clear message to the youth of the world: more than ever, the Olympic Games are for you.”
The message was loud and clear: London 2012 embodied the aspirations of youth and of the multicultural century that lay ahead.
Just as he’d been world champion on the track, Coe brought the same thinking to the bid.
Paris was the clear favourite to win, in fact they thought they had.
So Paris relaxed and ran their race according to the established rules.
But Coe saved his late burst for the final presentation, and made his move just as he did on the track.
Which meant that Paris didn’t see it coming, which is how Coe always liked to race.
Coe was a world-class competitor, he was there to win not to make friends.
If you weren’t there to win, why were you competing?
Thanks to Coe’s brand share speech, London beat Paris to host the 2012 Olympics.
Paris mayor Bertrand Delanöe, a former communications consultant, claimed bitterly that: ‘le fair play Parisien’ cost his city the Games.
‘We should have gone to war, like the British did,’ he said.