uring the 2012 Summer Olympics,
eight badminton players who threw their matches were disqualified for "conducting oneself in a manner that is clearly abusive or detrimental to the sport." The rationale
behind the decision was simple: In the words of the International Association of Athletics Federations, these athletes had not provided a "bona fide effort." But if that same logic was applied to Olympic sponsors, Panasonic Corp. should have been disqualified as well.
Panasonic disgraced itself and disrespected the experiential marketing industry.
The Olympics are largely funded by corporate sponsorships, and the crown jewel for major sponsors is a pavilion in Olympic Park. The 2012 pavilions ranged from Coca-Cola's otherworldly architecture to BMW's floating showroom. But like those badminton players, Panasonic punted an opportunity to make waves at the Summer Games and, in doing so, disgraced itself and disrespected the experiential marketing industry.
In a July 28 press release, Panasonic promoted its pavilion and introduced the company's Olympic slogan,"Sharing the Passion." But all the company shared with visitors was the marketing equivalent of a warm bucket of spit. After donning pairs of 3-D glasses and being corralled into a bare-bones theater, visitors watched what I can only describe as a poorly produced, self-indulgent series of commercials woven together with less finesse than a dervish-like shot putter fouling out. Imagine being locked in a dark room with dozens of strangers, doomed to a future of never-ending ShamWow infomercials, and you'll have some idea of how attendees felt. When the film was over, I wasn't just bored; I was annoyed and insulted. Panasonic had wasted two hours of my Olympic experience - and the marketing opportunity of a lifetime.
For one, the company didn't collect any info from attendees. There was no follow up or follow through. Staffers were MIA at best, and overly histrionic at worst. And Panasonic's key messages were force fed to innocent attendees like travelers shanghaied by a gaggle of time-share salespeople.
"Did you enjoy the presentation?" asked a staffer, whose question was met by deafening silence. Undaunted, he launched into a demo that might have sufficed at a local electronics shop, but was undeniably unremarkable, uninspiring, and the antithesis of experiential.
Lest you think I'm making a mountain out of a molehill, consider this little nugget from Event Marketer: "Hey Panasonic ... You embarrassed yourself - and our entire industry. Get out of here and don't come back."
Panasonic knows better. In the seven years I've attended the International Consumer Electronics Show, I've personally seen the company wow crowds. But without a discernible shred of effort, its Olympic Park pavilion was an epic experiential-marketing failure, and a far cry from the "bona fide effort" expected of Olympians.
Who cares? I do. This sad excuse for a brand pavilion tainted the water, like a synchronized swimmer who drank too much Gatorade. The Panasonic Pavilion was the first corporate pavilion attendees encountered after entering Olympic Park from the main Stratford Gate. Exiting the pavilion, I heard at least a half dozen people muttering phrases such as, "That's an hour of my life I'll never get back." How many of them do you think ventured inside a single other pavilion?
Furthermore, it's half-hearted efforts such as these that give experiential marketing a bad, boondoggle name. Because when Panasonic and others walk away from events questioning the value of face-to-face marketing, it's typically not the medium that's to blame. It's a fundamental flaw in their approach. But we bear the brunt of the backlash and resulting misperception.
In this industry, brands truly do reap what they sow. And my guess
is Panasonic got exactly what it deserved and walked away with about as many accolades as those disgraced badminton players.e