Content Marketing Lessons From Sochi

The Olympic games always present myriad challenges for brands and media properties as they struggle to cope with time zones, air times and real-time social sharing. We’ve come a long way in a short period of time since the 2012 London games, and that’s clearly evident in the amount of unique, creative campaigns spurred from Sochi this year. What stood out most about the brands that shined was that each of them told stories that were worth hearing, they were quick on their toes and were exceedingly thoughtful in their engagement. 

At Sochi, we saw a clear shift from marketing to storytelling as brands strove to inspire fans rather than inundate them with blatant marketing messages. Visa offered a great example of this in its “Fans Come in All Sizes” tweet. The image went viral and was a clear crowd-pleaser with 10,142 re-tweets and 15,119 favorites. Visa saw beyond the brand and engaged with consumers on a personal, human level. They pulled on America’s heartstrings and told a story not directly connected with the brand to focus on the aspirations of young athletes in the making. The message was relatable and authentic, spreading the sentiment that Visa is a company that supports dreams.



However, the great ads from the Winter Olympics didn’t just tell compelling stories, they were also thoughtfully executed. McDonald’s succeeded in developing an inventive campaign to bring together fans and Olympians. Using the hashtag #CheersToSochi, fans at home tweeted messages that appeared on a display in the Olympic village, which Olympians could then print onto a bracelet for inspiration. In a world that has become overwhelmed by social content, McDonald’s created a campaign that connected people from around the world in a tangible way. The fast-food giant showed us just how valuable it is to take social engagement beyond the social network and into the real world. This outside-the-box thinking will become increasingly important as the social ecosystem continues to grow. 

Social has increasingly grown its presence and impact at the Olympics, but at Sochi we found it to be particularly influential. In fact, there were more than 10.1 million Olympics-related tweets within just the first five days, according to Twitter. Take, for example, the case of #SochiProblems, a hashtag that emerged as complaints arose about the overall unpreparedness of the host city. One brand in particular jumped on the trending negativity and turned it into an opportunity to grow their business. Airbnb quickly reacted to dissatisfied journalists by individually tweeting recommendations for alternative accommodations. Airbnb’s stellar performance further established the company as one that genuinely cares and is willing to go the extra mile — not only for current customers, but also for future prospects. While we don’t know how much revenue resulted from the grassroots campaign, it certainly got Airbnb’s name out there and cultivated a positive reputation for the company. 

Events like the Olympic games present a unique opportunity to engage with fans across the world, but amidst all of the noise and real-time sharing, strategy and execution matters. From strong storytelling, to creative real world elements, to the smart use of social, some brands have proven that they know how to make the most of connecting with a rapt global audience.

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