Stories of Triumph, Teamwork and Tenacity Can Strengthen Your Brand
Ever since the Olympics were the first broadcast on television in 1936 to a limited audience in Germany, advertisers have been clamoring for a spot where they might catch the eye of tens of millions of viewers somewhere between gymnastics, swimming and dozens of other sports.
At this year’s Games in Tokyo, those companies were exposed to 15.5 million people tuning in during prime time — not to mention the viewership coming from shares on social media and platforms like YouTube. Even before that, companies knew the value of getting their message to the Olympic crowds: At the 1896 games in Athens, the first in the “modern” Olympics era, companies like Kodak jumped at the chance to sponsor the Games.
The relationship between marketing and the Olympics is often taken for granted. Company logos are so ubiquitous that you probably have no trouble conjuring up the image of the Coca-Cola logo next to the Olympic rings. Those organizations marketing themselves at the Games have it down to a science, crafting messages that complement their medium and their platform. Here are some lessons to take from the Olympics’ most famous partners:
You probably remember a few Olympics ads from the last couple of decades that tugged on your heartstrings. After all, sports stories have always had a special place in the zeitgeist thanks to tropes like the underdog overcoming all obstacles and inspirational speeches in last-minute victory montages. The Procter & Gamble “Thank You, Mom” ads that ran during the 2012 London games and at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro games are some of the most powerful examples of this in recent memory.
The earlier ad opens with would-be Olympic medalists as children. We see their moms wake them up for school, drive them to practices, wrap their wounds and cheer them on, following them through practices, high school games and early mornings, culminating in the final shot: our winners, seconds after their victory is announced, running up to thank the women who guided them through it all.
The 2016 ad doubled down on the sweet message, showing us the athletes in childhood moments of uncertainty or fear, looking to their mothers to remind them that it would be all right, that they could get through it. We flash forward to those same athletes now, looking to their mothers in the stands to thank them as they win their medals, as we are reminded that “It takes someone strong to raise someone strong.”
The ads are touching, reminding viewers of their own moments of uncertainty and the people who pulled them through. They also touch on one of the most compelling aspects of the Games: the stories of the athletes and the people who kept them going when the going got tough. It’s a powerful message, one that perfectly tied back into Procter & Gamble’s own tagline: “Proud Sponsor of Moms.”
While it may seem like a given that Olympic athletes make for powerful brand ambassadors with their huge viewership and passionate followings, competitors have been kept from engaging in personal sponsor promotion until very recently. In 2019, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) made changes to a guideline known as Rule 40, allowing Olympic athletes to post their own sponsored content.
“I play to win, whether during practice or a real game. And I will not let anything get in the way of me and my competitive enthusiasm to win.”
— Michael Jordan
The move is a testament to a shift in power that favors athletes over the IOC, and a recognition of the effect social media has had on how athletes are seen. With the advent of Instagram, Facebook and other platforms, athletes are more accessible, able to connect with viewers, tell their stories and build their brands. The new rule lets them leverage that, to the advantage of athletes and sponsors. The results are partnerships like the one between gymnast Simone Biles — now a household name — and Gap, or that of Canadian swimmer Penny Oleksiak and detergent brand Tide.
Many of the brands that sponsor the Olympic Games have been doing so for years. Coca-Cola has been a sponsor since 1928, Visa since 1988, Panasonic since 1984 and Samsung since 1988. These long partnerships are among the most powerful examples of event and partnership marketing in the world.
The Games themselves benefit from partner offerings like Visa’s exclusive payment technology at the venues, or the televisions, cameras and audiovisual equipment provided by Panasonic. At the same time, the sponsors become affiliated with a tradition and brand that increase their brand recognition, trust and loyalty.
The Olympics have been inspiring us for over a century with stories of triumph, teamwork and tenacity. Why not let them inspire your next marketing move?
Meaghan Branham is the managing editor of i4 Business, where she oversees the company’s digital media strategy, handles client relationship marketing for the print and digital magazines, and serves as one of the publication’s lead writers. A native of Brevard County, she splits her time between Central Florida and Nashville, Tennessee.