Olympic Marketing: Five Things to Watch in Rio

Olympic flag, Olympic marketing advertising

Clever brands will go all out in the competition for mind share

Many of us think of the Super Bowl as the big dog when it comes to sports viewership, but the biggest sporting event in the U.S. doesn’t even crack the top 10 in global viewership. It takes an international competition with a global audience and events spread over multiple days to approach or exceed the half-billion viewer threshold.

With an average of more than 2 billion viewers over two-plus weeks, the Summer Olympics rivals the world’s biggest soccer tournaments (FIFA World Cup and UEFA Champions League) and the Tour de France for the most-viewed sporting events in the world. The Winter Olympics, while drawing only a quarter of the Summer Games’ audience, are also among the top 10 most-viewed sporting events.

With access to so many eyes, ears and wallets, marketers look at the Summer Olympics as a can’t miss opportunity. The world’s most thoughtful brands and inventive agencies go all out every other year (summer and winter in alternating even years) in their own competition to win mind share and build loyalty. They’ll plan and execute strategies, spend money and take risks in surprising ways.

For the 2016 Summer Olympic Games, there will be plenty of the familiar tugging at heartstrings by official International Olympic Committee (IOC) sponsors like Samsung and Proctor & Gamble, or United States Olympic Committee (USOC) sponsors like Coca-Cola, Visa and McDonald’s. Here are five other things to keep your eye on as a marketer starting Aug. 3.

New Media

For the first time ever, Comcast Corp’s NBC has agreed to share video and partner with a social media platform to distribute Olympic content.

NBC, Snapchat, Buzzfeed partner at 2016 Summer OlympicsNBC Olympics and Snapchat will partner to deliver daily Snapchat “Live Stories” and an NBC Rio Olympic Discover channel. The Live Story experiences and Discover channel will be available to Snapchat users in the U.S. for over two weeks starting Aug. 3. NBC Olympics will co-produce the NBC Rio Olympic Discover channel with Buzzfeed, a regular contributor to both the Snapchat Discover platform and NBC’s content projects.

Through the Live Stories, thousands of Snapchatters attending select U.S. Olympic Team Trial competitions and the Rio Games will be able to contribute through photo and video posts to one collective, Snapchat-curated story. These Live Stories, which will be available to all Snapchatters in the U.S. to view, will feature behind-the-scenes and fan moments that capture the experience and excitement of attending the Olympic Games in person.

Meanwhile, Buzzfeed will leverage NBC’s access to athletes, as well as clips and shots from inside and outside Rio Olympic venues, to bring Snapchatters a unique, mobile-first look at the Games via the NBC Rio Olympic channel on Snapchat Discover.

Interestingly, neither NBC nor Snapchat is compensating the other directly in this relationship. Rather, NBC will take the lead on generating advertising revenue which the two will split. NBC pays billions for the right to broadcast the games, so this arrangement is an acknowledgement of the reach of the Snapchat platform and a chance to access its unique demographic.

Advent of the Interlopers

The fiercely-protective (and, a strong case has been made for shady) IOC charges hefty sponsorship fees, so many brands find clever ways to gain unauthorized exposure, a practice called “Ambush Marketing”.

Nike has produced some powerful campaigns around the Games but, surprisingly, has never been an official sponsor. For the 2012 London Games, the athletic gear powerhouse’s “Find Your Greatness” campaign kept it top-of-mind while avoiding actual sponsorship. In the example below, Nike celebrated the efforts of average athletes in other Londons (Jamaica, Nigeria, Norway, Ohio, Ontario, etc.). Notice that the ad doesn’t use the words “Olympics” or “Games”, or any related imagery, key to avoiding IOC trademark enforcement.

This year marks a dramatic change in Olympic marketing rules that will result in unofficial campaigns that, for the first time, include actual Olympic athletes in ways that make them more difficult to distinguish from those of official partners.

Athletes and brands were previously prevented by the IOC’s ‘Rule 40’ from executing campaigns that cut out the official committees. After years of lobbying by athletes, who argued they weren’t compensated directly or fairly for their achievements in competition, brands that have paid nothing to the IOC or a national committee like the USOC can feature big-name athletes.

To avoid drawing the attention of IOC and USOC brand police while executing unofficial athlete-centric campaigns, brands must apply for approval and demonstrate that their communications protect the exclusivity of official sponsors. For example, they still can’t use the words “Olympics” or the rings logo.

But keep an eye out for even more campaigns from unofficial sponsors that look a lot like official ones. General Mills, GoPro, Under Armour, Adidas, Gatorade and Red Bull are among the many brands that have applied to the IOC or USOC to feature Olympic athletes without being official Olympic sponsors.

Onsite Ingenuity

Over the years, marketers have done some of their best creative work thinking up clever ways to gain exposure for their brand or product with placement near Olympic venues or around the host city.

Beats headphones London OlympicsA well-known favorite was Beats by Dre’s nifty trick in London in 2012. The company had product representatives wait outside British athletes’ hotels so they could give them Beats headphones emblazoned with the Union Jack. The athletes gladly wore their new swag all over the place, including on-camera before events, and talked them up via social media. This was an unqualified win for the company at minimal cost.

Canadian beer company Molson Coors, an official sponsor of the Canadian team at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, installed in the official Canada Olympic house there a red beer refrigerator that could only be opened by scanning a Canadian passport. The appliance actually debuted in selected spots in Europe in 2013, but was a huge hit in Sochi.

It will be interesting to see what clever onsite schemes marketers cook up for Rio.

Offcourt Agility

Conducted over two-plus weeks, the Olympics are an ideal laboratory for agile marketing. They provide a great opportunity for marketers to try things, analyze results, change course or devise brand new ideas, all before the competition ends. Agile strategies will be most visible in social media, where it will be easy to see brands get in on the Olympic conversation in real-time. Some brands will also produce new creative to capitalize on Olympic stories as they happen.

Insurer Liberty Mutual did just this in Sochi. The company had produced before the Games a series of short films highlighting the journeys of well-known Olympians like J.R. Celski and Picabo Street. When U.S. skier Heidi Kloser was injured in a Sochi practice run before the opening ceremonies, she was worried she wouldn’t be considered an Olympian. This installment in Liberty Mutual’s “RISE” series, about Kloser’s story, was produced after the start of the Games and released before their conclusion:

Be on the lookout for agile creativity like this in Rio. And (shameless plug), join us Tuesday, August 9th for “Agile Marketing: Win Customers and Bypass Competitors”, an all-star panel discussion on applying innovative and iterative thinking and technologies to your marketing toolkit. Register now!

High-Profile Fails

A desire to hit the ball out of the park makes the occasional strikeout unavoidable. A great example of a marketing miss by a brand known for outstanding creative was the “Genius” campaign Apple debuted for the 2012 London games. The ads struck many as being at odds with Apple’s reputation for easy-to-use products.

The comments below this YouTube video say it all. ‘Jakub Sedlak’ asks, “I don’t get this. Do they want me to accept that their products are simple, straightforward and that they just work or would they like me to believe that it takes ‘genius’ to operate them smoothly and quickly?” ‘Luke Beauchamp’ writes, “This proves that Apple thinks their own customers are idiots.” You be the judge:

And as much positive press as Nike got for its “Find Your Greatness” campaign, many derided this polarizing installment as a blatant case of fat-shaming:

There will surely be more controversies and flat-out fails this year. The Minute Maid spot below got plenty of airtime during NBC broadcasts of U.S. Olympic Team trial competitions, and while it’s hard to imagine anyone being offended by it (in fact, many are finding it touching and inspirational), there’s a chance it won’t resonate for many viewers. It could be doomed by a combination of an unnatural setup, lack of connection between brand/product and content, and saccharine-sweet message.

Enjoy the Games while wearing your marketing hat, and share with us the best (and worst) strategies and tactics you see!

About Bill

Bill is VP, Content at AMA San Diego. He is a member of the sales team at Neil Patel Digital. He enjoys coffee, CrossFit, golf, traveling, current events and post-apocalyptic fiction. Find him on Twitter: @BillWinnSD