Lasting connections trump reach when it comes to Olympic marketing

Lasting connections trump reach when it comes to Olympic marketing
Alex Rahaman is the Vice President, Programmatic for EMEA and APAC. Prior to this he was the CEO and founder of StrikeAd, the first demand side platform (DSP) dedicated to Mobile, which he sold to Sizmek in May 2015. Founding StrikeAd in 2010, he moved to NYC to headquarter the business and grew it to 70 staff in 3 continents, becoming the leading global mobile-first programmatic platform. Prior to StrikeAd, Alex led the 2009 sale of Unanimis to France Telecom, taking on responsibility for the Orange mobile ad business. Joining Unanimis in 2005,Alex helped the company become the leading independent Ad Network in the UK and also led the spinout and Series A funding for OpenX, the global SSP. He received his MA from Oxford University.


In 2012, the London Olympic Games turned back the hands of time — with BBC TV coverage reaching 90% of the UK population and restoring viewing figures to a pre-digital high.

But any marketers banking on a similar phenomenon for Rio 2016 should beware. While this year’s games are expected to draw a global TV audience of 3.6 billion, over 80% of viewers will be distracted by another device. And for 56% of users that device will be a smartphone.

Although events like the Olympics are still an occasion where fans crowd around the TV set, the rise of second screening means there is no guarantee their attention will not be drawn away by browsing or online chats during ad breaks.

Indeed, according to a recent survey by RadiumOne, that is exactly what many UK fans plan to do when the games begin — 20% of participants said they would be talking to friends about the action, 19% are likely to be searching for information online, and 16% will be posting comments on social networks.

A single 30-second TV ad slot is therefore no longer enough to ensure campaign success and in response, forward-thinking brands are increasingly turning to cross-channel strategies that boost their impact on the big screen by engaging audiences across a variety of channels.

What makes Olympic marketing successful?

So with the torch only a week away from landing in Rio, what lessons can marketers take from the campaigns launched so far to make sure their strategies deliver Olympic gold, and how can they avoid following the steps of brands that have ended up in last place?

In February this year, Olympic sponsor Nissan took social interaction with the games even further by enabling fans to virtually train with athletes for its ‘Be the Heartbeat of Britain campaign.

In a bid to make fans feel like part of the action, the brand linked its ambassadors and Team GB athletes — Kat Copeland, Richard Whitehead and Max Whitlock — to a live feed on social media, which allowed fans to join their demanding training session in real-time.

In doing so, Nissan not only helped to build anticipation for the big event, but also established a powerful association between its brand and the joy being connected with the Olympics.

Developing strong, lasting connections with fans should be a higher priority than pure reach

Fellow sponsor Kellogg’s also harnessed the fascination with athletes to capture the attention of its audience, recreating a series of wake-up scenes from Hollywood movies —such as Spiderman and Ferris Bueller’s Day off — for its #GreatStarts campaign with the help of several former Olympic medallists, including Sir Steve Redgrave, Rebecca Adlington and Louis Smith.

In a masterstroke of cross-channel marketing, Kellogg’s has asked users to join in — offering a chance to win a RIO 2016 trip for those who share their own great starts.

Brands including Condé Nast, ESPN and the New York Times have launched a real-time advertising tool that enables brands to alter ads according to memorable moments during the games.

For example, if cyclist Bradley Wiggins secures his eighth medal, Halfords would be able create an ad congratulating his achievement while promoting their latest bicycles and equipment.

By tailoring ads to the moment, brands are better placed to capture attention and drive conversions.

The challenges

But there is one potential pitfall of cross-device marketing that brands should watch out for: the slippery slope into brand overkill. There is a fine line between creating a strong presence across multiple channels that allows users to interact whenever and however they prefer, and overloading audiences with messages that feel inescapable.

Last year’s Minions campaign ahead of the spin-off move release is a prime example of what can happen when oversaturation builds fan frustration — by emblazing Minions everywhere, including Amazon packages and Tic Tac mints, the once-loved animations earned a sizable online backlash.

To maintain effectiveness, it is vital for multi-faceted campaigns to provide interactions that enhance the user experience – interactive rich media is one way to encourage interaction and draw users into a brand’s messaging.

Not only does creative need to be tailored for each device and channel, but it must also deliver value by responding to real-world events — such as a medal-winning score — in a way that heightens user enjoyment and does not disrupt their activities.

There is no doubt that scale is paramount for global events like the Olympics, yet developing strong, lasting connections with fans should be a higher priority than pure reach.    

In a matter of weeks, Olympic fans will be taking their positions around the TV set, but to realise the full potential of the world’s biggest sporting event, brands need to set their sights on more than just the big screen.

Content consumption is now as diverse as the games themselves and igniting audience imaginations requires much more than 30 seconds. To achieve gold at Rio 2016, campaigns must echo the expert timing, agility and precision of the athletes on the ground, without taking the focus away from the real stars of the show.

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