A Record for Rio—Before the Games Even Begin

Which Companies Will Win Advertising Gold During the Summer Games?

With the 2016 Summer Olympic Games just around the corner, NBC has already scored advertising gold, racking up more than $1 billion in national TV and digital ad sales by late March, some four months before the opening ceremony and at an earlier point than any previous Olympics. The 17-day international competition, which begins Aug. 5, draws athletes—and audiences—from around the globe. It’s no wonder companies lined up early and paid top dollar for spots that will air during the Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro.

“The Olympics’ ability to dominate prime time for 17 consecutive nights is unmatched.”

Similar Time Zones Means More Live Coverage

Thanks to a relatively small time difference between Brazil and much of the United States (New York City and Rio are just an hour apart), the Rio Games will feature more live events—like fan favorites track and field, gymnastics, and swimming—than the London Games did. NBC, which paid $1.28 billion for the rights to air the Rio Games, will provide plenty of live sports content, which is popular with advertisers because audiences watching in real time are less likely to skip the TV commercials.

“The Olympics’ ability to dominate prime time for 17 consecutive nights is unmatched,” Seth Winter, NBC Sports’ executive vice president of advertising sales, said in a statement earlier this year. A year ago he boldly told reporters he’s confident the network will “deliver an NFL-like number every evening, exceeding 20 million viewers,” adding, “I think our expectations are that we’ll exceed London.”

The olympics in RIo mascot

Time will tell just how accurate Winter’s predictions will be, as automakers, movie studios, fast-food restaurants, and other prominent companies line up to cash in on Olympic fever. Olympic perennials BMW, United Airlines, Procter & Gamble, Kellogg’s, Nike, Coca-Cola, and others are on board with advertising spots and, in many cases, athlete sponsorships. Citicorp has announced it is sponsoring eight athletes, including gymnast Gabby Douglas, sprinter Allyson Felix, and rugby’s Carlin Isles. Visa is sponsoring a team of international Olympic and Paralympic athletes that includes decathlete Ashton Eaton and U.S. women’s soccer star Carli Lloyd.

Visa Is Off and Running—Er, Driving—to Rio

Visa debuted its global campaign in June during Game 7 of the NBA Finals. The ad features a group of its sponsored athletes carpooling to the Olympics. Narrated by Morgan Freeman, the spot “is a change of tone from past Olympics,” according to Lynne Biggar, Visa’s chief marketing and communications officer. The company’s past ads focused more on brand and less on the ways people can use Visa products. The carpool commercial shows the athletes paying for purchases with chip-enabled cards and other Visa products as they travel to the games. While Visa won’t say how much it has spent on its Olympic sponsorship deals, according to Fortune, a source close to the subject put the figure at around $25 million a year for four years, which includes a pair of Winter and Summer games.

#TwitterGold

Marketers looking to cash in on real-time viewership of the Rio Games need look no further than Twitter. These games mark the first time since Vancouver in 2010 that most North American audiences will be in time zones similar to the host city’s. With fans able to watch live, interaction is sure to play a bigger part than it has in previous games. In June, Twitter Canada hosted an event that advised marketers on ways to capitalize on fan engagement. Michelle Slater, head of marketing at Twitter Canada, likened the Twitter platform to a “virtual campfire,” around which fans can share a collective experience. She urged brands to “be prepared to go beyond sport and engage with what else is happening at the games.” In previous Olympics, Slater told her audience, engagement spiked during the opening and closing ceremonies.

Procter & Gamble, through a series of poignant spots aired internationally, paid homage to mothers everywhere.

The marketers also heard from Pedro Martheyn, Twitter project specialist, who championed the use of video as an effective marketing tool, urging brands to create video content that can “reach the right person in moments of receptivity.” Martheyn also advised attendees to use branded hashtags to boost engagement, like Nike and Target have done with #JustDoIt and #ShareTheForce, respectively.

Olá, Vinicius!

Mascots are an integral part of the marketing of the biennial Olympic Games, and for Rio we welcome Vinicius to the vanguard. Named for Brazilian musician Vinicius de Moraes, the character chosen to represent the 2016 Summer Games is a mix of Brazilian animals. Its design was inspired by pop culture, video games, and animation. The Vinicius character, chosen by a multidisciplinary jury and named via a public vote, represents the diversity of the Brazilian people and their outgoing nature. Vinicius is often depicted with his sidekick, Tom, the mascot of the upcoming Paralympic Games, who’s a leafy, green (and blue and orange) representation of Brazilian flora.

The games have had mascots since the 1968 Winter Olympics in Grenoble, France. They’re usually an animal (or human character) native to the host country. The first mascot, Schuss, was a little man on skis, depicted in the red, white, and blue of the French flag. The first official mascot was Waldi, a dachshund whose colorblock body sported three of the Olympic-flag colors: yellow, blue, and green. Representing resistance, tenacity, and agility, three prized attributes of athletes, Waldi was showcased at the 1972 Summer Games in Munich.

Mascots at recent U.S.–hosted games include Disney-designed bald eagle Sam for the 1984 Los Angeles Games; a spunky blue fellow called Izzy (a name derived from the oft-asked question “What is it?”), who represented the 1996 games in Atlanta; and Powder, a snowshoe hare, Copper, a coyote, and Coal, a black bear, Salt Lake City’s trio of characters, whose names were suggested by Utah school children.

The Thrill of Victory …

Most of the marketers who purchase advertising time during the Olympics generally reap the benefits of their multimillion-dollar investment. Some ads resonate years later. Who wasn’t touched by Procter & Gamble’s “Thank You Mom” campaign, launched just prior to the London Games? In the months leading up to the 2012 Summer Games, Procter & Gamble, through a series of poignant spots aired internationally, paid homage to mothers everywhere. Marc Pritchard, Procter & Gamble’s global marketing and brand building officer, said, “At P&G we know that getting to the Olympic Games begins at childhood and that on each of these athletes’ journeys to London 2012, there was one person cheering for them louder than anyone—their moms. P&G is in the business of helping moms, not just moms of Olympians, all moms, all around the world. So we’re using our voice at the Olympic Games to thank moms everywhere.”

British marathoner Paula Radcliffe, one of the featured athletes, said, “I am very proud to be part of this campaign, as I know that I wouldn’t be where I am today without the unconditional support of my mum and family. Thank you, Mum!”

Procter & Gamble reprised the campaign for Sochi and recently unveiled yet another moving rendition for Rio.

Going back a few years, McDonald’s had a hit with its 1996 “Future Olympic Hopefuls” ad. Who can forget the adorable babies and toddlers showcasing their prospective Olympic specialties? As we watched chubby-cheeked Jacques Bouclé, “a natural for discus,” fling his plate off his highchair tray, who among us wasn’t proud to be a flag-waving, Big Mac–eating American, ready to root on our athletes in Atlanta and to join McDonald’s in “keep[ing] the dream alive for tomorrow’s hopefuls”?

… And the Agony of Defeat

But, alas, just as the games have their share of nonpodium finishers, so, too, do marketers, whose campaigns don’t always win gold, silver, or even bronze on the world’s largest stage. Just ask Under Armour. The athleticwear company spent years researching and developing a high-tech suit for the U.S. speedskating team, which was strongly favored coming into the 2014 Sochi Games. When the team not only didn’t win but also failed to medal in any of its long-track events (its best finish was seventh place), some skaters and coaches blamed the Under Armour suit.

The suit design may or may not have been behind the team’s lackluster performance, but as AP business writer Mae Anderson explained, “It was a blow to the brand because it came in front of a global audience right at the time when Under Armour is seeking to expand internationally. And experts say it will put the company on the defensive instead of garnering positive Olympic goodwill.”

Olympic perennials BMW, United Airlines, Procter & Gamble, Kellogg’s, Nike, Coca-Cola, and others are on board with advertising spots and, in many cases, athlete sponsorships.

In hindsight, Under Armour’s Olympic embarrassment was a mere blip on the company’s radar. The brand, which outfits the likes of superstar athletes Steph Curry, Tom Brady, Jordan Spieth, and Andy Murray, rebounded quite handily from its Sochi stumble—to the tune of $4 billion in sales in 2015.

Subway walked away from the Sochi Games with a black eye for its ambush ads. Unapologetically running TV commercials that featured former Olympic speedskater Apolo Ohno and Australian snowboarder Torah Bright, the sandwich chain made it appear that its $5-footlong promotion at the very least had a tie to the upcoming games. The only problem? Subway had no affiliation with the Olympics, and didn’t pay the millions for sponsorships that other marketers had (like competitor McDonald’s, which reportedly paid nearly $200 million for an eight-year, four-Olympics deal that included the Sochi Games). “This is obviously a deliberate strategic decision that they have made,” said Simon Chadwick, a professor of sports business at Coventry University, who tracks ambush marketing. “They are trying to suggest that in some way they have an association with the Olympic Games.” It’s not against the rules, but it definitely exhibited a lack of sportsmanship.

Light the Torch and Bring On the Ads

Citius, altius, fortius. Faster, higher, stronger. Olympic ideals. Marketing dreams. Let the games—and the ads—begin!

Photos / Video Embeds: Shutterstock, AGIF/Shutterstock, YouTube

Chip Compton

Chip Compton

Chip Compton has written on a variety of marketing and design topics and personalities, including Stefan Sagmeister, female creative directors, and luxury brands. His work has appeared on “Get with the Confusion,” Medium, and Pop Matters.

Meet Chip Compton