Maybe it’s because we’re a Boston-based agency, but watching the drama behind the city’s bid to host the 2024 Summer Olympics over the past six months has been immensely entertaining. And in many cases, it’s given us insights into marketing mistakes every organization should avoid.
It all started with the somewhat surprising choice by the U.S. Olympic Committee to select Boston as the U.S.’s choice to host the games, beating out cities with larger populations and infrastructures like Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C.
Sure, a U.S. city hasn’t held the games since Atlanta in 1996, and Boston’s bid had been set up to reclaim the country’s Olympic-hosting glory, but picking Boston—a city so plagued by weather and transportation problems in the weeks when the selection committee was meeting—seemed like an anomaly.
And then came the backlash, which immediately followed the announcement. Many residents expressed concern that the city was pursuing the bid without putting it to a public vote. Two anti-Boston 2024 coalitions, No Boston Olympics and No Boston 2024, amassed large followings on social media and called for public officials to hold hearings where Bostonians could voice their concerns about the games.
In a city still recovering from the negative repercussions of the Big Dig, it’s safe to say Boston 2024 probably was never going to be widely embraced from notoriously cantankerous residents, especially in light of the negative press recent games (the 2012 London debacle, anyone?) have gotten for taxpayers footing the exorbitant costs.
Even though some journalists have called the failed bid “an embarrassment of the highest order,” we’ll try to put a positive spin on it and see what marketing lessons can be learned from the downfall of Boston 2024.
1. Social Media Matters
In the competition to win over the public’s affection for their cause, the two anti-Boston Olympics coalitions took the gold. Unlike Boston 2024’s social media strategy, which remained oddly silent in the face of criticism from Twitter users, both dissenting groups actively engaged with their followers.
Of course it’s not always best to respond to everyone who tweets a question or negative comment at you, but taking some sort of stance on the issues could’ve benefited Boston 2024’s image in the long run. Instead, their silence to the public wreaked of indifference and a detachment from Bostonians’ concerns about hosting the games.
2. Fess Up to Your Mistakes
If there was any indication early on that things weren’t going so well for Boston 2024, Mayor Walsh’s decision to ban public employees from criticizing the city’s bid certainly was a harbinger.
As mayor of the city, Walsh was always going to take most of the heat from impassioned citizens. But things went from bad to worse when Walsh referred to the bid’s opposers as “about 10 people on Twitter.” A hashtag was born, and soon #10peopleonTwitter was trending, with outraged citizens calling out the mayor for his casual dismissal and lack of understanding of the their stance.
The lesson for marketers? Formulate a strategy for responding to criticism and crises before they happen; remaining silent or casually brushing off opposing viewpoints is no way to get people to come around to your side. If anything, it will only turn them off to your message even more.
3. Passion Wins Out
There’s a reason the organization with the biggest soapbox usually comes out on top. Both anti-Olympics organizations might have lacked the enormous budget and government backing that Boston 2024 had, but they ultimately made up for it by creating the most noise in the media thanks to a traditional grassroots campaign led by passionate supporters.
Even though their number of followers wasn’t remotely as high as the Boston 2024 juggernaut, both groups targeted the platforms they knew their audience was most active on, namely Twitter and Facebook, to drum up support and attention. They also organized meetups to discuss strategies they could employ to raise awareness for their cause, even printing off “No Boston 2024” banners for local businesses to display. That kind of undeterred enthusiasm is hard to beat.
As nice as it might’ve been for some Bostonians to rent out their apartments for $1,000+ a night on Airbnb to Olympic tourists, it wasn’t meant to be in the end. And if nothing else, the attempt to bring the Olympics to Boston gave the marketing world a textbook example mistakes to avoid when you’re trying to get the public to embrace what you’re selling.