Olympic advertising: expect the expected

When it comes to authentic affiliations, creative made for the Olympics offers plenty of examples of the good, the bad, and the ugly. Jamie Clift takes a look at brands that get it right, and wrong.

As advertisers we spend an inordinate amount of time talking about the importance of emotion in our communications and making meaningful connections with consumers. And for good reason. We make most of our buying decisions based on emotion, not rational thinking.

So every four years when the Olympics roll around, we see a rush of brands getting in touch with their emotional side and turning out beautifully crafted, long length, heart-felt stories in an effort to win favour with their audience.

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Sadly, not all of them make the most of the moment.

Here are a few observations from the current crop of both local and international efforts.

If you’re not famous, stand next to someone who is

Many brands rightly see an opportunity to borrow from the equity bank that is the Olympic Games. And they pay plenty for the privilege. So it’s not surprising that they want to get as close as possible for maximum benefit.

I used to have a creative director who said, “If you’re not famous, stand next to someone who is”. But sometimes the connection just isn’t there and you can come across a bit like the old man at a nightclub – just a bit creepy.

Swisse, whilst not the most creative of efforts, have a plausible reason for their association. It makes sense for them to roll out their army of sponsored athletes in what appears to be an endless parade of talent, and I’m sure they sell plenty of vitamins off the back of it.

They haven’t challenged themselves creatively, they just let the athletes do the heavy lifting.

Samsung, on the other hand, is a less obvious connection. When they follow the dreams of a South Sudanese athlete as she attempts Olympic glory against the odds and use that as an opportunity to sell ‘cordless earbuds’, it just falls flat.

I’d have felt better about that brand if they were putting support into training programmes in the Sudan, not just flogging headphones, but that requires effort and commitment that outlasts the two weeks of the Games.

In another execution, Samsung nobly attempt to unite the world around a single anthem sung in the far flung corners of the world and beamed into the Olympic stadium via the miracle of the Galaxy S7 edge. There are even a handful of ‘celebrity’ athletes thrown in for good measure. An anthem always seems like a nice idea, but this is a bit of a cacophony and the brand’s role is a little forced.

Taking themselves too seriously

Omega is the official time keeper for Rio 2016. That’s an important job and possibly a story worth telling. Delving into exactly what that means and how Omega go about delivering on that might be an interesting story to tell. Instead, Omega has chosen to go with a montage of sports stars performing at their chosen sport and a stirring music track in an attempt to stamp their authority on the games.

What you actually take from the spot is a brand that is full of its own sense of worth, not a brand that has a real role to play at the Games, which it actually does. A lost opportunity, really.

McDonald’s however, know their place. No athlete got to the Games on a diet of burgers and Happy Meals. So Macca’s makes it fun. It celebrates what it does well, the individuals that do it, as well as those who enjoy their food.

Sure, there is a loose connection drawn between the art of burger assembly and the dedication required to compete at the Olympics, but it’s implied and it’s tongue-in-cheek and that’s just the way Aussies like it – not too serious.

Dubious metaphors with a dose of national pride

How do you make a successful Olympic ad? If you’re Woolies, you follow the growth of a young boy into a world champion, layer over it a haunting soundtrack and resolve with a real life Olympian, all while making a dubious comparison with your own product.

In the current climate it’s easy to see why Woolies is picking up ‘national sponsorships’ like there’s no tomorrow. It’s broken open the piggy bank on AFL and now the Olympics, all in an attempt to mend some fences with the Australian community and win back the love.

But sometimes you can try too hard and comparing the development of a gold medal winning athlete with growing vegetables feels like Woolies is oversimplifying the task somewhat. It’s gone for all the right ingredients but the metaphor is a stretch and it’s lacking the lightness of touch to be considered tongue-in-cheek.

“I’ve paid for a sponsorship, I’m going to make the most of it”

This is where contemporary marketers, with a plethora of tools and channels at their disposal can get tied in very expensive knots. Churning out endless ‘content’ to use across social and digital platforms just because it’s there doesn’t always lead to the most compelling work.

Often it leads to tenuous story lines and contrived attempts to match the client’s product to the training efforts of the athletes over the past decade – “just like the athletes, we’re dedicated to high performance”. That kind of cliché. It costs a bomb to produce and even more to push through the various channels and seldom gets viewed.

Optus created a great Olympic campaign with Thorpey, Lee Lin Chin and friends that encouraged us to send messages to athletes. It was original, witty and whether you sent a selfie to an athlete or not, made you smile. It didn’t take itself too seriously.

Unfortunately, Optus couldn’t resist the urge to then go on to create films that involved athletes and their ‘support network’, of whom we’re meant to believe Optus is one. In predictable fashion we overhear the phone call from athlete to loved one/coach describing the moment they found out they’d made the team.

There’s even an opportunity for a quick product demo for poor old Nan in one. Attaching the brand to the moment of success is obvious and a bit lazy, no matter how opportune it may seem.

What can we learn from this?

If that feels like a whole lot of sniping, it’s not meant to be. In the whole I’m sure these ads will give people a warm glow about the brands they promote, but there is always a better way.

Most of the time, the connection a brand has with the Olympics is remote, unless your name is Nike or Adidas, so often it’s better to do something unexpected. Don’t try and fool people that your brand is in some way contributing to the success of an individual or the team. Be confident enough to have some fun with your most expensive sponsorship and give people a smile. A surprise is always nice.

It comes down to a single word really – authenticity. Attempting to be someone you’re not will always catch you out. If you can stand comfortably alongside a famous world record beating athlete and sell your story, terrific. But if it doesn’t feel right, if it isn’t authentic, then take a different approach, or reconsider that sponsorship altogether.

Jamie Clift is a strategy partner at Pencil & Pixel Sydney. He has more than 25 years’ experience in the advertising industry.


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