Even though the same-old superpowers dominate the overall medal count, The Olympic program has so many disciplines that other countries – with some hard graft – can claim as their own.
So what are the best methods for finding your niche and owning it? Here’s what brands can learn from Korea, Japan and China’s winning streaks in their chosen sports:
Archery, Korea: KEEP IT COOL
If there’s one way to gain street cred as a brand or an Olympic sport, it’s to appeal to youth culture. From badass horseback military squads to influential K-pop stars, archery has always been cool in Korea. It’s even been said to have made bucket hats cool; Kim Soo-Nyung, South Korea’s most decorated Olympian, rocked them while clinching all six of her medals. Now they’re peak Seoul street-style.
Korea has an unbeatable legacy in archery, but it’s dedication to keeping it a cultural phenomenon is the key to its ongoing popularity. Brands that strive for Gen Z greatness in the same way need to speak their language, appeal to their idols, and start them from young: not only is archery a staple of the Idol Star Athletics Championships, which sees fan-crazed K-Pop stars compete against each other, it’s introduced as early as primary school. Being a promising young archer makes you the coolest kid on the block.
Judo, Japan: BE THE FIRST
Japan wrote the book on judo – literally. The best written material about the sport is available in Japanese only. A martial art combination of jujitsu, wrestling and mental discipline, judo is connected to the spirit of Japan. Like kabuki, tea ceremonies, and calligraphy, judo plays homage to the Japanese way of teaching. Watch, learn, repeat – for every waking hour of the day.
Japan’s success in forging a path for Judo on the world stage, and disrupting a roster of traditional sports, is a lesson in innovation. The best brands innovate by taking the best bits from other categories, and making their USP a dynamic combo of them all – just like judo. And even when they’re at the top, they never stand still. After London 2012, when Japan won only one gold medal, they looked into new training techniques, back to basics quick-fixes, and new methods to tighten their grip on the leaderboard top-spot.
Table tennis, China: DO IT BETTER
Table tennis originated as an after-dinner game for bored Victorians in England. Unsurprisingly, it didn’t inspire top athletes as a drunken party trick – and that’s where China stepped in, with one goal in mind: global domination.
China played a major role in transforming pingpong from a playful pastime to a sport of the masses, going from strength to strength until it became an unofficial national sport. They poured money and resources into coaching and infrastructure, and now even export their players: as many as 21 countries had at least one Chinese-born athlete representing them at Rio.
What brands can learn? That in some cases, there’s no best-kept-secret for growth. Take a tired idea, and breathe new life into it – with all the gusto of an international superpower. By plugging in to relevant cultures, trends, and heritage, brands can elevate their messaging to resonate with new audiences – and get their business fan-fit for the future.