In just a few short days, the world’s attention will turn to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for the 2016 Summer Olympics. As an Olympic superfan, I’m excited to follow the action and cheer on some of my favorite athletes, including Simone Biles, Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt. But, there’s something else I’m looking forward to—the commercials.
Every four years, big brands rise to the occasion to show the stories of these athletes; the fight to get there—the emotional struggle and the pure physical commitment. The Olympics, much like the Super Bowl, set the bar high for advertising. From the multimillion-dollar budgets to larger-than-life audiences (Olympic coverage now reaches billions of people in over 200 countries and territories!), people are glued to their TVs for two long weeks for more than just the competition. Perhaps it’s the “triumph over adversity” narrative, but one thing is for sure—while the world’s best athletes compete in everything from swimming to taekwondo, advertisers square off during the commercial breaks to determine who will reach their target consumers most effectively.
In B2B, we’ve learned that humanizing content can do wonders for a campaign. It’s when you blur the lines between B2B and B2C that some of our best work shines. Here are some lessons we’ve learned from Olympic advertising.
Make it personal.
Tapping into where these athletes come from, whether that’s overcoming poverty or moving away from home so they could achieve their goals, gives us that personal connection that we crave. Earlier this year, Under Armour released some striking ads featuring Michael Phelps and the women’s gymnastics team that focus on the preparation that goes on before these athletes compete. In 2012, Nike took a slightly different approach by using regular, everyday athletes in its “Find Your Greatness” campaign. Whether an ad uses actual Olympic athletes or not, the most important thing is that viewers relate to their story.
Focus on your core audience.
Although the Olympics have a worldwide audience, the best marketers understand that they can’t reach everyone. Instead, they must hone in on their main consumers. P&G, the parent company of such brands as Tide, Pampers and Bounty, did just that in 2012. The company’s “Thank You, Mom” commercial specifically targeted mothers: the ad followed a group of moms from around the world as they handled the day-to-day tasks of raising their children. It’s a poignant ad that puts less focus on the athletes achieving Olympic greatness and more emphasis on the people who helped them get there, especially their moms. By engaging with their target audience, P&G created the most shared Olympic ad of all time.
Tap into true human emotions.
Many people love the Olympics because of the way the games make them feel. Some of the best Olympic commercials create an emotional pull in viewers. Whether the commercial’s aim is to make people cry, laugh or feel shocked, the main idea is that viewers feel something while watching it. Olympic ads run the full gamut from this 2008 Visa ad featuring Morgan Freeman as narrator to the Canadian Institute for Diversity and Inclusion’s 2014 spot that protested Russia’s anti-gay law. By producing an emotional response from viewers, these ads are more likely to be shared on social networks. The lesson is clear: emotion sells at the Olympics, and producing the right type of emotion is critical when you want to connect with your customers.
Listen and respond to real-time feedback.
The 2012 Olympics in London were considered the first “Social Olympics.” More tweets were sent on the first day than during all two weeks of the 2008 Olympics. With the presence of even greater social media today, brands must be prepared to listen to comments from the public and respond in a timely way. During the 2012 Olympics, Coca-Cola used social feedback to improve its “Move to the Beat” campaign throughout the two weeks it aired. AT&T also took advantage of the five-hour time difference between London and New York to create a commercial featuring footage of swimmer Rebecca Soni winning her race; the commercial then aired immediately after she won the gold medal on NBC. Now more than ever, brands must be willing to listen and respond to reactions from consumers to create more compelling advertising for everyone.
Take smart risks and think ahead.
Olympic marketing is inherently risky. Many brands choose the athletes they will sponsor months ahead of the start of the Olympics, but with sports, there is always the chance that an athlete could be injured or not qualify (see Dan and Dave from the 1992 Olympics). However, some risks do pay off. In 2004, Adidas released an ad featuring Nadia Comaneci—the 1976 Olympic all-around champion and first gymnast to score a perfect 10 at the Olympics—and an unnamed young gymnast performing on the uneven bars together. The commercial is visually stunning and shows how young athletes are inspired by the past greats of their sport. What made this ad even more remarkable, however, is that the young gymnast, Nastia Liukin, went on to win the all-around gold medal at the 2008 Olympics. Adidas could not have known Liukin would be the winner in Beijing, but her win gave the ad additional exposure four years later.
As you follow the action from Rio over the next few weeks, I hope you’ll take a moment to watch the commercials as well. Perhaps some of these techniques could play a role in your next marketing campaign.