Rising above the noise: How brands will cut through with Olympics content

P&G's "Thank you, Mom" campaign

The stakes for athletes in Rio are obviously high, but, in terms of brand content, the 2016 Olympics marks arguably the most competitive landscape marketers have ever seen.

That’s because a change to official rules has paved the way for even more brands to participate -- as content creation overall has increased exponentially since the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi.

A (theoretically) receptive audience

According to video analytics firm Visible Measures, branded videos for the 2016 Olympics had triple the views as the two previous Olympics at the same point in time and marketers can therefore expect at least 800 million views of branded Olympics content this year.

What’s more, Visible Measures found that while the World Cup, the Super Bowl and the Olympics are typically the three biggest live sporting events in terms of online viewership of brand videos respectively, the Olympics are likely to see Super Bowl-caliber online viewership this year.

Driving forces

The big lift is in part because there are more platforms, which, in turn, mean more content. In fact, Visible Measures noted Facebook and Instagram video ads didn’t exist for the 2012 Olympics. In other words, there’s simply more to consume and the growth in-video consumption for the Olympics specifically mirrors a broader trend in which consumers engage more with video content overall, noted Vassilis Dalakas, Professor of Marketing at Cal State San Marcos.

But it also underscores the importance of live sports, which is one of the few events consumers watch live anymore. And, per Brian Shin, CEO of Visible Measures, data from his firm shows brands are more aggressively putting out content for live events.

“The Olympics will be a showcase — we’ll see more brands producing Olympics-specific content even if they are not sponsors — because live events and sporting events are so important and extremely expensive to sponsor and advertise against,” he added.

More brands, more noise

What’s more, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has amended its Rule 40 to make it easier for non-sponsor brands to capitalize on consumer interest in the 2016 Olympics even if restrictions on messaging from non-sponsor brands remain.

Per Dalakas, Rule 40 is theoretically in place to prevent the Olympics from becoming over-commercialized, but it’s actually in place to protect the sponsors and, perhaps most importantly, to help the Olympics retain sponsorship value. And, under the amended rule, athletes are not allowed to appear in related promotions from non-sponsors unless they are part of an ongoing campaign, Dalakas noted.

“Why this is a big deal is because the people are in danger here, not just the sponsors,” Dalakas said. “It’s the actual athletes — and the IOC has the ability to have them disqualified or to take away their medals.”

The 2016 Olympics will mark the first live sporting event that has actually sanctioned the production of content from non-sponsors, Shin said, adding it’s a smart move to invite brands to make related content.

“It’s better for [the Olympics] if the entire buzz is bigger overall and the tide raises all ships,” Shin said, pointing to Nike and the 2014 World Cup. That’s when the unofficial sponsor – Nike – drove more viewership of football content than the official sponsor, Adidas.

“It’s better to encourage the best content production, even if it’s not from an official sponsor,” Shin added.

So with content production at an all-time high, how can savvy brands and marketers distinguish themselves? Here are three takeaways:

1. Consumers don’t care if content comes from non-sponsors

The bad news for sponsors is that consumers don’t generally notice or care what event content comes from official advertisers. That’s because the content generally has similar looks and feels, tackling themes like perseverance and overcoming adversity.

“Nike is an interesting case – it is the IOC’s biggest nemesis in terms of ambush marketing by having ads with those Olympics sentiments without officially saying Olympics in them,” Dalakas said. “So as far as the content, I think any brand can capitalize on it if done creatively.”

2. Content from outsiders should raise the bar for creativity

This is precisely what Nike did for the 2012 Olympics in London with its “Find Your Greatness” video, which could not include any trademarks, but still deftly capitalized on a connection to the Olympics by focusing on greatness and athletes in London all over the world.

It’s also what Guinness did for the 2014 Olympics in its “Twins” spot featuring biathletes Tracy and Lanny Barnes. (However, Dalakas noted, the ad had to be taken down during the Olympics to prevent disqualification.)

“I’d argue non-sponsors are more creative because they have to go around restrictions, whereas the actual sponsor doesn’t,” Dalakas said.

3. The most memorable content focuses on real people

For any brand weighing in on the Olympics conversation, the key to standing out when everything starts to look the same is finding common ground.

That’s precisely what P&G’s "Thank You, Mom" campaign has done, Dalakas said.

“It’s interesting because P&G was a sponsor that could have milked it more in terms of using the trademark, but it intentionally didn’t because the point was relatability,” Dalakas said. “The reality is we like the Olympics because we see top athletes from all over the world, but most of us can’t relate to them. But, chances are, people are moms or have moms or both. It’s easy to see that and make that personal.”

This is a common theme in Olympics advertising. In fact, per Visible Measures, 42 per cent of brand video campaigns this year tell a heartwarming or inspirational story.

And, Shin notes that it really boils down to telling athletes’ stories, as P&G has done.

“Marketers that do the best focus on that,” Shin said. “When you focus on the athletes, the other problems and distractions go into the background, so I think with this Olympics, it’s about emphasizing the stories of athletes as more marketers are participating. There’s a significant uptick in the total number of brands that will be participating because there is a limited number of sponsors. But now every marketer has an opportunity to hitch its wagon to the Olympics and the smartest will hitch to the stories of athletes.”

Similarly, according to a survey from media and marketing services company Mindshare, 56 per cent of viewers between the ages of 18 to 34 said they would like to see brands provide behind-the-scenes content on athletes and teams and 45 per cent said they would like to see brands provide access to tips and advice from Olympic athletes on their sport.

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