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The world is watching: Consumers' global mindset ahead of the 2016 Olympics

by Jola Burnett , 26.07.2016

Founded in the late 19th century, the Olympic Games were meant to bring the world together for a little friendly competition – to celebrate athletic achievements away from political issues and other concerns.

But the outside world has intruded on the games before – think Munich 1972. And this year, before they have even started, the Rio Summer games are surrounded by storms of controversy. Impeachment, government bankruptcy, Zika, and uncertain environmental conditions at some athletic venues have presented many potential distractions and continue to draw media attention.

Rising concerns in Brazil and beyond

How are consumers themselves really feeling in 2016? GfK Consumer Life provides an important reality check on all of the discussion and debate. Our latest research shows that Brazilians are most concerned about:

  1. Inflation and high prices (42%)
  2. Corruption (40%)
  3. Crime/lawlessness (38%) and Recession/unemployment (38%)

Recession/unemployment, corruption and terrorism are now the fastest-rising concerns in Brazil.

Not surprisingly, terrorism is also weighing on the minds of citizens around the world. Our latest findings show double-digit increases in the concern over terrorism in Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, UK, France and Russia. The concern in Brazil has risen only modestly in comparison – in the 4-7 point range, which places it among markets such as the US, Korea, Indonesia and Australia.

A new way to watch: How technology is changing the games

According to some recent sources, there are some 2 million unsold tickets to the Rio Games. But worldwide TV and Internet viewership promises to be strong, with a host of new platforms – smartphones, tablets, etc. - now more viable as options for watching the games. Close to a half (47%) of global tablet users have watched/listened to content on their tablets with a free service or an app. Similarly, over a third (36%) of smartphone users have done the same on their smartphones.

As an alternative, while still very nascent, virtual reality shows promise to those wanting to experience the Olympics without the worry. According to GfK Consumer Life, many Americans are interested in using VR for anything from watching movies, TV shows and short videos, to visiting travel destinations and playing games. And, close to a quarter (24%) of Americans would like to watch sports via virtual reality.

The VR concept is much more appealing to men (36%), especially Gen X men (40%), and affluent Americans with a household income of $100K+ (32%). According to NBC, Samsung Gear VR users will be able to watch exclusive Rio Olympics coverage via the new NBC Sports app. The success of the VR Rio experience (albeit somewhat dependent on streaming speeds) might be a pivotal moment for how future generations will consume media and entertainment.

Open-mindedness and internationalism: The global mindset going into the Olympics

There’s another bright spot despite the anxious atmosphere. Consumers around the world are increasingly embracing unfamiliar ideas and ways of life, with the value of “Open-mindedness” ranking at #9 in 2015 (out of a list of 50 personal values) among 20 countries. This represents a jump of 7 places from 2014. In fact, the notion of being broad minded is up across all regions tracked by GfK Consumer Life.

Similarly, the desire to learn more about different people, countries and cultures is on the rise, as reflected in the rising value of “Internationalism,” which ranks at #42 globally -- up 3 places from 2014. The value of “Internationalism” is up among all regions tracked.

The lessons of this data are clear – while worries are real, they may not be as dramatic in some cases as headlines might lead us to expect, and concerns around attending the Olympics don’t necessarily translate to watching or streaming them across a variety of devices. With consumers around the world increasingly valuing open-mindedness and internationalism, the Olympic Games remain a global playing field for marketers and brands to truly come together. Can you take reassurance to a new level? Are there opportunities to back your messages with real social campaigns to ensure small but meaningful changes across the world? Authentic messages that connect with your target audiences on an emotional level will be key.

Jola Burnett is a vice president and consultant at GfK Consumer Life. She can be contacted at jola.burnett@gfk.com.