Advertising Marketing Olympics Sponsorships TV

A Five Ring Circus: Were The Olympics Worth It?

By Posted 13 September 2016

The Olympics are now well and truly over; our news feeds have returned to normal and we’ve all stopped pretending that we understand anything about gymnastics. I didn’t actually watch the Olympics, tbh. I don’t know anyone who did. I mean, yeah, we occasionally streamed Simone Biles being a freak of nature and defying physics and I know a few people who watched Hussain Bolt race. But other than that? We probably wouldn’t have known the Olympics were even on if it weren’t for social media.

In fact, NBC (who broadcast the Olympics) found that Olympic viewership was down by 25% in the 18-49 year old age demographic this year. They blamed this downturn on millennials. So if millennials aren’t even bothering to watch, is there any point in advertising at the Olympics at all?

Well, first thing: one does not simply advertise at the Olympics. Companies wishing to do so must become an ‘official sponsor’, paying around $100 million USD for the (dubious) privilege. Not to mention the cost of oh, I don’t know, actually coming up with the campaign, creating the content, cross-promotional marketing, social media… Basically, advertising at the Olympics is only for the really big players. This year’s sponsors were Coke, P&G, Samsung, Panasonic, GE, Bridgestone, McDonald’s and Visa.

We don’t believe they received a whole heap out of it either. With the ‘Rise of the Mobile Streaming’ and the commensurate ‘Fall of Television’, fewer and fewer people are watching the games on a platform that allows for ad breaks between events. So companies who forked out big for thirty seconds of TV time after the 100m freestyle are probably not reaping the expected rewards. Savvy brands knew that this would be the case and got around it by branding objects physically present at the games. If you wanted to watch them, you’d have to also watch the huge Coke and Samsung posters in the background.

In reality, these brands are so big they hardly need the Olympics. For them, the Olympics aren’t about sales figures. They’re about brand equity. These companies want to build their brand and enhance their image, and they’re happy to ride on the Olympics’ very expensive coattails to do so.

However, there’s not enough coattail for everyone, so some brands get around the exorbitant official Olympic sponsor price tag by sponsoring athletes instead. If you’re Special K endorsing Simone Biles or Under Armour covering Michael Phelps, then this is a pretty great work-around.

But what if you’re Coke, sponsoring Michelle Jenneke who barely saw any screen time these Olympics? Coke was planning on running their logo on screen while Jenneke performed her famous pre-race dance but unfortunately that just didn’t happen and Coke had to say goodbye to a million whole dollars for nothing.

It could be worse – you could be Speedo or Ralph Lauren who placed their faith in Ryan Lochte and were robbed of their expected rewards (see what I did there?), and had to launch into the world’s fastest damage control maneuvers just to save face.

So really, is all this money, time, risk, and stress even worth it? Especially when the advertising doesn’t even lead to actual sales? And more importantly, when people aren’t even seeing the ads?

Our answer? Not unless you run out of other ways to spend your marketing budget.

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