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Are the Winter Olympics even worth it for brands?

By Basia Wojcik, Vice president of sports

January 27, 2022 | 4 min read

Humanity has been enthralled by the Olympics for millennia. Even modern crises – like the pandemic and boycotting of the Games due to concerns about China – do not appear to dampen most people’s love for the event. And that commitment poses a potentially valuable marketing opportunity for brands.


People watch the Olympic Games to see dreams come true

Just six months ago, Tokyo belatedly pulled off the Summer Games amid intense Covid protocols and minimal spectators. TV ratings continued their long decline, exacerbated by time zone displacement and the absence of many A-listers. These conditions persist in Beijing, which is further overshadowed by international concerns about the host country. So why are we, as brand stewards and sports fans, still so enthralled with the Olympics? Why are brands so steadfast in their commitment to it?

In a word, the answer is: humanity.

Despite all the headwinds and recent pressures, the Olympics remain one of the most powerful platforms in sports, thanks to their unique and superlative attributes. At their best, the Olympics and Paralympics exhibit global ideals in action.

And brand alignment doesn’t get any better than that.

They bring forth the most powerful storytelling in sports.

On one hand are the stars whose dominance of their respective sports never ceases to fascinate. For most viewers, these superhuman athletes are like comets, commanding our attention every four years. Their rarity heightens the interest.

On the other hand, the vast majority of Olympians and Paralympians gain neither fame nor riches from their sports. Their drive to excel – to overcome all the barriers on their journey to the Games – epitomizes pure passion and intrinsic motivation. The additional challenges layered on by the pandemic and by this year’s host country only make these athletes’ stories of overcoming adversity that much more inspiring. And whether they win a medal or not, the athletes nearly always conduct themselves with the utmost pride, grace and respect.

Consider the breadth and sheer volume of content.

Do you like sports that are death-defying? Highly combative? Musical and emotive? Or do you have a specific interest in a particular country, niche event, team or athlete?

Maybe you’re completely indifferent about sports, but you enjoy tear-jerking featurettes. The coverage across the NBC portfolio is so complete now that you can probably find whatever you’re into. While some in the media may yearn for the monolithic TV audience of yesteryear, the fractured media landscape of today is simply a different kind of opportunity for brands. The breadth of content maps on to vast, diverse audiences on a global level. And those traditional prime-time moments still unite many viewers for those two weeks. Sports are the last bastion of family-friendly, appointment TV.

The door is wide open for brands.

For decades, only a handful of the most deep-pocketed brands could afford to be involved, and they had to be official sponsors of the International Olympic Committee or a National Olympic Committee. But thanks to rule changes that took effect in time for Tokyo, brands are now allowed to make deals with athletes, leveraging their social media channels and name/image/likeness.

If a brand plays an authentic role in the lives of Olympians, and is willing to create content reflecting the spirit of the Games, then it can look strong in the space with whatever media buy it can afford. Brands would be remiss not to consider this for Paris 2024 and Milan/Cortina 2026. The return of live crowds, in locations that the whole world swoons over, will mean a return to true Olympic form. Brand investment will be back, and that will mean everything to these athletes.

Don’t we all want to make dreams come true?

Basia Wojcik is vice-president of sports at The Marketing Arm. She has been involved with brand campaigns in every Olympic Games since Beijing 2008.

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