Michael Payne, a former marketing director of the International Olympic Committee and now a strategy advisor, believes the stage is set for London 2012 to be a "fabulous" Olympics, boosted immensely by the unexpected presence of 4,700 additional troops filling in for the shamed security contractor.
Payne waxed lyrical about the visual military presence at The Olympic Park in Stratford and the positive impact he believes they will have on the athletes and spectators alike ahead of the Opening Ceremony. He told Marketing: "The G4S debacle will end up being a blessing in disguise, I’m sure of it.
"I have been to the Olympics Park and seen the troops and they are extremely efficient and are all in great spirits. They bring real positivity and professionalism to the Games and add another level of engagement to the experience."
Locog confirmed today there will be 18,200 military personnel at the Games, with almost 5,000 filling in on the security side for G4S' high-profile short fall. The security company has been able to supply fewer than 6,000 guards despite a contract to provide more than 10,000.
G4S faces losses of up to £50 million as it is forced to pay for the cost of the increased military personnel, and the future of the highly criticised security firm hangs in the balance.
Expects fabulous Games ahead
London 2012 will be Payne’s 16th Olympic and Paralympic Games and he says the capital is as ready as any host city has been, although admitted it did face unprecedented transport challenges.
"Weather not withstanding, this with be fabulous," he said. "In every single Games I have ever attended you paint a picture of a road nightmare in the half chance that people will take you seriously and get on public transport and drop the cars.
"As a result most transport nightmare glitches don’t materialise. Now, that being said we have never before hosted the Games in the centre of a modern day city like London. This is seriously, seriously complicated and there will be some transportation issues."
Recalling the negative media coverage surrounding many previous Olympics, 54 year old Payne believes Locog has done better than most at conveying the vital role business plays in financing the Games.
He said: "In the lead up to the Games, in the final three months or so, the Olympics has always provided the oxygen for whatever cause is out there.
"Leading up to Sydney, we had Greenpeace beating up Coca-Cola on environmental issues, manufacturing issues in Asia and cheap labour. I don’t view the media this time round as being any more aggressive on the marketing agenda than it’s often been in the past.
"I think the over-commercialisation debate has even been less aggressive than in the past. I do think people have begun to accept on a broader basis the role of the sponsors. There’s an appreciation that you can’t have advertising in the stadium and so there’s an engagement debate.
"When we came off the Salt Lake crisis in 2002, which concerned the erection of Salt Lake and so-called corruption and bribery around it, we found sponsor respect actually started to dramatically increase.
"It astonished us at the time, but part of it was a reaction to the media saying that if the IOC doesn’t get its act together and clean house, the sponsors will withdraw and that will be the end of the Games. That was the first time that that debate had been going out into the forefront.
"My views are that the general public view and support going into the Games has actually been a lot higher than it’s been in most countries previously. You’ve got all the perceived negativity of delays and costs and everything, and I think IOC’s view generally is that Locog and UK Government have done a much better job in comparison."
Brainchild of IOC sponsorships calls for common sense
Payne was first hired by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in 1983, and is credited for being the brainchild of its Olympic Partner programme, designed to attract big sponsors to help cover the costs of the modern Games.
He helped lay many of the foundations surrounding the Olympics trademarks and sponsorships guarantees that have caused controversy in the run up to London 2012, but now states common sense must prevail.
In his exclusive interview with Marketing he repeated his calls for London 2012 organisers - Locog and the IOC – to think about how aggressively rules are enforced, to avoid "scoring an own goal" with negative publicity.
He said: "I think there is generally a good appreciation among the public about who has helped pay for the Games, so Coca-Cola is available in the Park as opposed to Pepsi, but what's that got to do with a flaming torch baguette in a nearby café?"
However, Payne defended Locog’s chairman Lord Coe when he appeared to get confused when pushed on what the general public can and cannot wear when attending this summer’s Olympics.
"He [Coe] is working 20 hours days at the moment," he reminded. "IOC President Jacques Rogge has now come out and said organisers will not be too heavy-handed and that common sense would prevail and I welcome that."
In his statement, Rogge went on to warn that any "blatant" attempts at ambush marketing would result in intervention. He added: "Our position is very clear. We have to protect the sponsors because otherwise there is no sponsorship and without sponsorship there is no Games."
The Games as a catalyst for healthy living
Questioned about the increasing pressure from health campaigners urging the IOC to ban junk food and fizzy drink brands from its sponsorship deals in the future, Payne pleaded for a pragmatic approach.
He said: "The obesity agenda is a lot broader basis than what you are eating, and is a lot more to do with lifestyle and frankly how you are bringing up your kids. If you didn’t have sport, and in particular the Olympics, as a showcase, then the obesity agenda would be far worse."
Payne recalled how he had held discussions with McDonald’s about pioneering their salad range 10 years ago, before the start of the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics. He believes over the years the Games has been a "catalyst in driving such healthy options", and can take some of the credit for the emergence of fruit juices, waters and salads at such companies.
He added: "If you take a hard line view that you can’t have soft drinks, you can’t have chocolates, you can’t have fast foods, you can’t have cars, you can’t have airlines, you can’t have a chemical company… before you know if you can’t have a single major sponsor."
The sports marketing specialist is mindful of how close the Olympics as we know it had come to closing shop in the 80s due to lack of financial support. He warned those who rail against the sponsors: "I started out in a period when it was the end of the road. We had no more funding."
Ad campagins could have been stronger
Payne, who is currently advising IOC marketing deals for Rio 2016, admitted he has not been overly impressed with the way some of the major sponsors had leveraged their multi-million pound sponsorship deals leading up to London 2012.Alongside IOC sponsors like Coca-Cola, Panasonic and Visa, have been ad campaigns from Locog's 'tier-one' brands, including Adidas, BMW, BP, British Airways, BT, EDF and Lloyds TSB.
"I’ve been surprised that some of the marketing campaigns weren’t started earlier and haven’t been stronger," he admitted. "Whether that was because people have obviously been through a very difficult economic rollercoaster, and programmes have been delayed I don’t know."
However, the man who spent his formative years at Swiss marketing agency ISL, pointed to IOC newcomer, the multi-conglomerate Procter & Gamble, as an example of activity that has achieved cut through.
He said: "Some of the programmes P&G have done, and the way they’ve gone after their 'mum’s agenda' – despite being the new kid on the block [Olympic sponsorship wise] – is remarkable. Its simplicity and connection back to the family experience captures something that differentiates the Olympics proposition from say the World Cup proposition.
"You don’t have the personal family connection or the likelihood of your neighbour or a person from your town or village taking part in the World Cup like you do with the Olympics.
"Therefore the whole involvement of family and friends in the training process usually forms some of the most emotional moments of any Games presentation. This connection back to the family is something P&G have tapped into."
Speaking as more than 100 heads of state descend on London for Danny Boyle’s £27 million Olympic opening ceremony tonight, amid fears of transport meltdown, over-commercialism and make-shift security, Payne's experience provided a valuable perspective.
He said: "You always get an awful lot of agendas being played before any Games, but the moment the athletes start competing the whole of the media coverage moves straight on to the sporting performance."
Follow Arif Durrani on Twitter: @DurraniMix