The 2016 Olympic Games in Rio: A Researcher’s Perspective

- Cecília R. Troiano & Jaime C. Troiano

(TroianoBranding, Brazil)

In astronomy, medicine, or any other endeavor, when we get closer to an object of analysis, our perspective often changes. If not for that, we would have had no reason to have gone to the moon or embarked on many other explorations.

Getting close to the things we aim to understand is what truly proves or disproves our convictions and our hypotheses. It helps us see if the things that we admire and truly worthy of admiration. (Admirare, in Latin, means “to see from a distance.”) Anthropologists have been teaching us the same thing. Their presence in the communities they want to understand is, for them, an irreplaceable source of knowledge and understanding. They must go there and live in order to truly learn.

We have experienced something very similar during the Olympic Games in Rio. Once more being there in person for five days reinforced the idea that the realities “inside” often belie the expectations from “outside.” Being a live spectator at Rio 2016 gave us the perspective that Neil Armstrong; anthropologists; and, in some cases, we researchers have, too — the opportunity to be closer, to adjust our lens of perception, and to create a better understanding.

Allow us for a moment to remember the doubts, not only here in Brazil but also around the world, about Rio’s capacity to host an event of that magnitude. The atmosphere during the days that preceded the Olympics was tense. Instead of anticipation and celebration we experienced doubt and concern. Surveys conducted among Brazilians a couple of weeks before the event started reflected the fear of failure centered around a lack of organization, health risks from the Zika virus, and security threats. All those bad feelings were combined with a huge political and economic crisis in Brazil. For most Brazilians, the Olympic Games could not have been happening at a worse time. For us, it was similar to an unwanted child. According to quantitative research conducted by TroianoBranding for one of the Olympic sponsors, Banco Bradesco, cariocas (as Rio natives are called) expressed high levels of ambivalence about hosting the Games. But the show must go on and the torch was almost arriving in Rio. Despite the long odds, the inherent chaos, and the public’s criticisms, the athletes were ready to come and compete for their medals.

August 5th, 2016: Let the games begin! We saw 207 nations represented, 12,000 athletes, 45,000 volunteers from around the world, 28 sports, 7.5 million tickets, and almost 5,000 medals waiting for the Rio 2016 Olympic champions. And despite all the pre-event hand-wringing, something very different happened during these two weeks.

First, the hospitality of the cariocas, a trait that has always been theirs, was elevated to its highest levels. They reveled in the idea of opening their city to the world. Spectators, Brazilians from all corners of the country and foreigners from all corners of the globe, felt this warm atmosphere. Cariocas and thousands of volunteers were doing the impossible to make visitors’ experience the best they could. As we said, this was not a great effort for cariocas. They are naturally welcoming and friendly.

We cannot deny that there was some last minute scrambling. Hey, this is Brazil! We always leave things to be finished in the last minute and we truly believe that God is Brazilian. Surely He will be there to help us finish what still has to be done! A green swimming pool, for example, was not planned — nor was the big lie of a famous swimmer, which happened outside the pool. But these two events got a lot of attention because things, surprisingly, were working pretty well. There were few other rough patches worth discussing.

The press, national and international, and naysayers among the public were forced to rethink their preconceptions, some of which were based on a view from afar and a superficial analysis.

Starting with the touching and creative opening ceremony, the Rio 2016 Olympic Games were a good example of how things seen from a distance can be dangerous. The further we are from what we want to understand, the further we are from the insight and the reality. Distance betrays the truth. In the case of Galileo, the lenses that helped him see from a distance were right. In the Games, the distant lenses failed. As a result, although Brazilians initially were nervous about hosting the event, results from a survey conducted by Datafolha, a Brazilian marketing research agency, show that 71% of the total population considered the event excellent or very good, after the Games were over. The perspectives from a distance (before) and up close (after) proved to be quite different.

As market researchers we live this duality very often in our profession. Nothing is more powerful than to penetrate in the lives of our consumers, understanding what they think and, especially, what they feel.

We did not tell you before but we must confess: We were on the same mood as our fellow Brazilians were, very anxious about the Olympic Games and reluctant to attend. Nonetheless, as good researchers, we made a decision and spent five fantastic days in Rio with our son Gabriel, watching as many games as we could. From beach volleyball to swimming — and we couldn’t pass up the chance to watch the American Basketball team in person. What a show! Besides having lots of fun, the most important thing for us was that we were there and could feel and understand the games from a different angle. With closer lenses. Without prejudgment.

Cecília R. Troiano and Jaime C. Troiano are partners at TroianoBranding, Olson Zaltman’s Global Partner in Brazil.

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