Rio 2016: Vying for Marketing Gold During the Olympic Games

No other event inspires, entertains and unites hundreds of millions of people around the globe like the Olympic Games; this athletic competition sustains us for a two-week period when 88 countries come together to display athletic prowess in the name of personal achievement, patriotism and honor. 

Each year, amidst conversation about television’s demise or international tensions, the Olympic stakes are raised even higher, and as we approach Rio 2016, more brands will be competing for consumer attention. Put in perspective, 68% of the U.S. TV population tuned in to the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games -- that’s just shy of 200 million people over 18 nights. Networks are shelling out upwards of $800 million for the rights to broadcast the Games, and brands in all categories are pouring in significant budget not only on-air, but with promotion, in-store, on-pack and in digital spaces. Even delivery trucks have Games-related messaging. 

Whether your brand is an official Olympic sponsor during the Rio Games or simply looking for a way to enter the conversation, now’s the time to organize your playbook for one of the biggest events of 2016 and make sure your brand stands out in a sea of Olympic wannabes. 

Keep an eye on relevance

It may be tempting to simply run your existing marketing materials during this time, especially given the resources that have already been used in developing these assets. Don't make this mistake.

Olympics audiences expect and respond to Olympics-related messaging and the opportunity to be swept up in the spirit of the Games. They tune out messages they see as removed from Olympics content, rendering your familiar marketing material tone-deaf. 

There are endless angles to take on content, while staying true to the Olympics spirit: athleticism, internationality, thrill of competition, the timely and newsmaking nature of the Games, the list goes on. Mini Cooper did this exceptionally well with its 2012 Win Small campaign, when the brand aired a montage of instances when a smaller player bested a larger one. Without overt references to the Olympic Games throughout, the brand successfully aligned its own size attribute with the win-against-all-odds nature of the Games.

Sell in moderation 

While access to so many potential customers can lead to a frenetic desire to sell, sell, sell, messaging during the Games has to be far more nuanced. Overt selling is often perceived as too commercial and in contrast to everything for which the Olympics is meant to stand. Instead, branded messaging that taps into shared values - such as perseverance and enthusiasm – resonates best.  

Procter & Gamble did this successfully during the London Olympics in its “Thank You, Mom” campaign. Tonally, the campaign celebrated Moms for their rightful role as everyone’s biggest fan. Post-Games, P&G estimated that the Olympics generated a $500 million sales boost and experts confirmed that P&G's messaging created enormous brand goodwill. In short: you don’t need the classic "hard sell" to win out with consumers. 


Those who only produce one or two pieces of original content, yet run those pieces over and over in the same time slot or magazine, are guaranteed to bore consumers. Instead, marketers should invest in true multi-channel campaigns with sufficiently different executions to appear fresh and hold attention. 

Digital channels, of course, enable brands to execute very quickly and capitalize on news in near-real time, such as a win by an underdog or a record-breaking medal win for your country. While this sort of newsjacking can pay off, marketers should think twice about whether to jump in with a reactive message. The frequently-used “Congratulations” message to a winner or country isn’t unique to your brand and can appear gratuitous. The connection between athlete, achievement and brand is, at best, a stretch. 

However, if  the forecast is predicting torrential storms, and you’re Patagonia, then releasing a message aligning your waterproof “Torentshell” jacket with that conversation will earn you points and keep you relevant. Or, if you are an athletic brand, capitalize on the underdog's win to message the importance of training and winning off the field with social training schedules – and how dedication leads to personal victory.

Calculating the Return 

Perhaps the biggest question for brands considering Olympics content is how to measure the return on what is certainly a hefty investment. When it comes to Olympics marketing, it’s critical to determine what success will look like prior to getting involved and prepare accordingly. 

Some brands can expect an immediate boost in sales during and after the event. For instance, Ralph Lauren’s iconic Opening Ceremony uniforms for the U.S. teams were a fashion sensation, asconsumers were quick to order the ensembles when they became publicly available the next morning. For the most part, however, participation in the Olympics conversation is best measured from the positive associations engendered for your brand and by increased awareness – something that can be more difficult to quantify, but is worth valuing. 

This experience may carry a different ROI than your ongoing marketing strategy, but the benefits cannot be understated. By preparing now, your brand will be sure to rise above the -- yes -- competition.

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