We're nearing the end of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games and as much fun as it is to watch the performance of the athletes on the snow and ice, it is also enjoyable to watch the corporate sideshow surrounding the Games as well. And with that in mind, it is increasingly clear who the winners and losers are - so let's get right to it!
Gold Medal: Subway & BMW
Not even close. These two are the class of the Games. Non-Olympic sponsor Subway has done such a fantastic job inserting themselves into the Olympic broadcast they have been identified in surveys as the number one Olympic sponsor by viewers. A seamless campaign (by Boston's own MMB) incorporating former Olympic greats, Michael Phelps, Apolo Ohno and Nastia Liukin has real resonance and laid the groundwork for the product specific ads that have followed. USOC and USA Bobsled sponsor, BMW has had what has amounted to a days-long commercial for their performance-driven ethic. By designing the medal-winning American bobsled, and having that fact be discussed over and over again in-broadcast and in an array of media stories before and during the Games, this has to be one of the single greatest brand affiliations ever made in the Olympics. The congratulations ad that ran the night of the two-man bobsled medal was the piece de resistance.
Silver Medal: Visa & Coke. Two old pros who know how to play the game (and the Games). Great emotive TV creative leveraging the athletes and the events in a timely manner, constantly refreshed throughout the Games so it never gets tired; coherent product tie-ins, and high-end hospitality for their top guests. Textbook Olympic marketing. And Morgan Freeman.
Bronze Medal: Putnam Investments
From a serendipitous interactive spread in the New York Times featuring the Putnam logo all over sponsored athlete, Ted Ligety, to constant visibility on NBC's Today Show and Olympic broadcasts of B-roll footage featuring their logo on athletes and practice gear to a strategic Olympic TV advertising buy in key markets to underscore their support of the US Ski & Snowboard Association, Putnam Investments has raised the bar for any company looking to leverage the Olympic Games without spending the $50-100 Million dollars necessary to do so. Oh, and Ted Ligety winning gold on Wednesday was the dot on the exclamation point of an extraordinary successful strategy. Look for creative congratulatory ads in Barrons and the Wall Street Journal the moment the sponsor "quiet period" ends.
Losers: Under Armour & the media buyers/planners for Chevrolet & Carnival Cruises. Planners & buyers, take note: sometimes less is more. You developed GREAT ideas for your clients, but viewers got the concept the first ten (or twenty) times they saw your ads, they did not need to see the campaign another 50 times to make your point even more clearly. And you could have saved your clients $10,000,000+. John Hancock got more industry impact from a tremendous Olympic ad (produced by Boston?s Hill Holliday) that aired only ONCE in 1994. So the babysitter wants more money, and, four kids sliding down a water slide equal a bobsled team. Thank you for sharing - or actually over-sharing. Maybe spend some of that media buy on a few new spots next time.
And Under Armour - your speedsuit being blamed for underperformance of the ENTIRE US Speedskating team is probably unfair...but it hardly helps your brand and has had the opposite impact of the BMW effect.
Finally, Liberty Mutual take note – you were also on this list until you pulled a rabbit out of your hat with the Heidi Kloser ad which brought the over-promoted "Rise" campaign full circle, but you still have a lot of work to do before Brazil in 2016 to generate enough internal ROI to cover the costs of the first two years of sponsorship AND media.
Gold Medal: Russia
Make no mistake. These Games and the stories in these Games have (to date) been fabulous. A little warm weather, soft snow, and the odd jailed protester here and there are no match for the great stories the Olympics ALWAYS provide. Giant sports broadcast rights fees are paid for a reason. And we are reminded yet again why the Olympics matter. Viewership numbers are holding up strongly for a time-delayed Games. From venues and logistics to general good karma, Russia is to be commended as an Olympic host, all politics aside (but the heavy hand of security is evolving as a story again, so be careful to finish strong).
Silver Medal: Norway, Canada, and the Netherlands
I am a sucker for small countries that perform asymmetrically against the giants, and these three countries are the reason why so many of us love the Olympics. They represent three of the top five medal winning countries (along with the USA and Russia). From the Dutch speed skating mastery to Canada's breadth of winter sport performance across all disciplines to Norway's CRAZY amazing success year in and year out (with a population of 5,000,000 Norway has more Winter Olympic medals than ANY other country in history), this is ANOTHER reason why the Olympics matter, and why tens of millions of viewers watch every night.
Bronze Medal: USA
The final medal count is yet to be decided, but the highly visible underperformance of Shaun White, Kikkan Randall, Shani Davis, and certain other skaters, skiers and riders have ensured that this Games is a mixed bag for the USA. Thank goodness for Sage Kotsenberg, Kaitlyn Farrington, Noelle Pikus-Pace, Steve Holcomb, TJ Oshie and the fresh faces of the US Ski & Snowboard team…otherwise, the USOC might have some 'splainin to do. The bottom line is that Team USA brought breadth AND depth to Sochi, and it shows.
Honestly, just being there is a victory for so many of these athletes. From Jamaican bobsledders to Belarussian aerialists, each country brings its own history and own baggage to every Games. I keep waiting for China to figure it out and do better than six medals for their 1.3 billion population...but for now, I remain thankful they are still on outside looking in. Count on that changing either in Korea in 2018 or in the 2022 host - which just might be Beijing.
All of that said, let's enjoy the last couple days of competition and commercials. It's going to be a long four years until we do this again in Korea!
John Ivey is Managing Partner of AMM, a marketing strategy firm based in Boston which specializes in sports & entertainment marketing.
The author is solely responsible for the content.
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