A Night With the Olympics Advertisers

The Olympics are the marketing event of the moment. I’ve certainly watched my share of the sporting events, but I hadn’t yet sat down and focused just on the ads going on in the show. So last night, I decided to focus on the most interesting part of these games: the commercials!

Olympics commercials in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1...

The Olympics are the marketing event of the moment. I’ve certainly watched my share of the sporting events, but I hadn’t yet sat down and focused just on the ads going on in the show. So last night, with Katie Ledecky and Michael Phelps swimming for medals (including one of Phelps’s biggest races), and the U.S. Women’s Gymnastics going for the team gold, I decided to focus on the most interesting part of these games: the Olympics commercials!

One thing that really jumped out to me was how much the commercials continued the themes of the Olympics: Inspiration, hard work, preparation, precision, performance, rewards. Especially inspiration.

And at the same time, I was surprised by what I didn’t see: Couch potatoes.

I’m a sports fan. I watch a lot of sports in general — and I basically list football as my religious affiliation. I’m used to my sports coming with a heavy dose of junk food, beer and soda commercials, many of them playing to my urge to relax, stuff my face and watch the game.

ChesterCheetahThere was nary a Cheeto to be seen during the Olympics! Hershey is a named sponsor, but there were no candy bars being munched between the events. Even the Reese’s Cup ad was active and inspiring.

In fact, these commercials made me feel downright lazy (even though I was working on this blog post throughout it).

Coming into the games, NBC Olympics CMO John Miller was criticized for saying, “The people who watch the Olympics are not particularly sports fans. More women watch the Games than men, and for the women, they’re less interested in the result and more interested in the journey.”

While the criticism is justified in the broader context, watching the commercials sheds some light on where he was coming from from the point of view of marketing the Olympics.

These commercials clearly weren’t targeting sports fans. They were targeting people who tuned in to be inspired. And I think a lot of them hit the mark.

A quick word on calls to action: I expected to look for these, but as the commercials rolled out, I found I wasn’t catching many of them. Many of the car commercials ended with strong CTAs, especially BMW’s, but for the most part the commercials pushed a hashtag, or didn’t even attempt a next-step push. Given the inspirational tone, I think that makes sense. This night was more about branding and relationship building.

Here’s what I saw last night.

Lead-In Olympics Commercials

  1. BMW Olympic sponsorship
  2. Polo by Ralph Lauren Olympic athletes spot: Olympians identifying themselves, talking about overcoming obstacles.
  3. GMC precision commercial: “The Precision of Professional Grade.”
  4. Hillary Clinton Campaign Ad: “How do we make the economy work for everyone?” Emphasized charging companies that move overseas an exit tax. (A little ironic for the iconic international games, perhaps.)
  5. Toyota Corolla: Middle age couple, wife sees girls “dancing” in the next car and asks why he never takes her dancing anymore. Turns out the girls were freaking out over a bee. (Mental note: Corolla not bee proof!)

Thoughts: Cars, premium clothes and the front runner for president. Wealthy, white and, if I may say it, female-leaning ads.

The Olympic coverage starts with intros, context and story set-up. The kind of thing Miller was talking about.

Olympics Commercial Break 1

  1. Chobani: #NoBadStuff. US Women’s soccer commercial with the message, “Don’t listen to them [your naysayers], listen to you.”
  2. Tylenol PM: “We give you a better night, give you a better you.”
  3. Coca Cola: Soft cover of Queen’s “Under Pressure” with an Olympics/people-are-awesome type of theme.
  4. Bridgestone Tires: Gymnasts moving along the road in 2×2 formation as a metaphor for tires. Puncture-proof tires. Worldwide Olympic partner.
  5. Pop Tarts: Elect the candidates “Crazy Good” commercial.
  6. BMW i3 smartcar: Aimed at hip, city dwellers. “Once the fun starts, it never stops.”

I didn’t time them, but the commercials seemed really short: Flash a few images, say the catch phrase, move on.

First Sport: Gymnastics – GOAT?


More Gymnastics. Introducing the team, Brent Musberger calls Simone Biles The Greatest of All Time. He does it as an after thought, like it’s been said so much it’s boring. Like they say it about Muhammad Ali.

I’ve never heard that during an Olympics for a first time Olympian. I’m not disagreeing at all, but it’s weird from a sports broadcasting point of view. In years, announcers were reluctant to anoint someone the greatest ever. No one would say it until some time had past and it was clearly unassailable.

Again, I don’t disagree (as you’ll see), but it feels odd hearing it said as she’s going through her first Olympics. Feels like part of the marketing message, not the reporting.

Olympics Commercials Break 2

  1. Visa commercial showing athletes going to Rio and highlighting all their payment products.
  2. The Voice TV show preview.
  3. Apple iPad Pro: “What else can it do?” I didn’t know it was Apple until the reveal at the end.
  4. NBC Network “Watch the RIO Olympics … starting August 5” commercial. Running on August 9. Kinda weird, almost certainly an ad spot they weren’t able to sell. Olympic rap in it was pretty sweet.

More Gymnastics

Olympics Commercial Break 3

Chevrolet presents a closer look at Rio, spotlighting the Taijuka rainforest in Rio. Very short, commercial length, but providing interesting content nonetheless.

  1. Chevy KBB awards commercial follows that story. (It’s been in heavy rotation for a while.)
  2. Hellman’s Mayonnaise commercial showing how to cook a “strange” sandwich. Tagline: “What’s Your #Strangewich?” Successfully made me want that sandwich! Focus was on the making, not the eating, though. Like the “Tasty” viral recipe videos.
  3. Nike: Chris Mosier 1st transgender “duathlete” to make the men’s national team. Totally about him going for it, even though he never knew it was going to work out. Barely mentions Nike, but he’s wearing Nike gear. Classic Nike ad.
  4. Reese’s Cups: Lindsy Von “Do summer like a winter Olympian” by eating a Reese’s Cup. Brilliant. Now I want a sandwich and a Reese’s Cup!
  5. New Movie: “Arrival.” Amy Adams sci fi movie. Looks right up my alley; I want to see it. Neither my wife or I had ever heard of it before, and we do follow those pop culture channels.


Olympics Commercial Break 4

  1. NBC Sports Olympic Gold map showing kids how to find their path to the gold today. Interesting. I’ve never seen that before. Definitely aimed at parents and kids watching the Olympics.
  2. Disney’s Pete’s Dragon movie commercial. Fandango plug in it.
  3. “The Good Place” TV Show commercial.
  4. Repeat of the Toyota Corolla ad.
  5. BB&T branding commercial: Trust-focused. Welcomes clients of National Penn.
  6. BMW X1 commercial with sports fans going to a game. Most typical sports commercial I’ve seen yet.

The commercials have definitely gotten longer. Maybe the time is cheaper now, but I think they’re also taking into account that people are settled in and watching. You can take your time a bit more, they’re paying attention to the message.

More Gymnastics

Olympics Commercial Break 5

  1. Samsung Galaxy Note 7 commercial w/ Christoff Waltz: About how Americans multitask, work super hard, “Do more before 8 AM than the rest of the world does all day.” (We don’t, but still.) At the end, he realizes the hard work pays off and moves into a big house in the American Dream.
  2. Dodge Ram “Guts Glory Ram” commercial: Good poem, “Idols are all around in the unseen corners of the world. No monuments are built in their honor, or mountains adorned with their face, because heroes aren’t driven by fame. They’re carved from courage.”
  3. Commercial for upcoming NBC TV show “This Is Us.”

More Gymnastics. Simone Biles is carrying more muscle mass than I’ve ever seen on a gymnast. Aside from her shorter stature, she’s like the Serena Williams of gymnastics: Bigger, stronger, worked harder, better. Looks like she could jump out of the gym if she wanted to. Still feels weird for someone to be the GOAT during their first Olympics, but I can see it. Or maybe a princess?

Olympics Commercial Break 6

  1. Exxon Mobile ad talking about how a non-car company works so hard to make cars better. Good branding.
  2. “Timeless” TV show commercial coming this fall. Been seeing that one a lot.
  3. Dunkin Donuts Cold Brew coffee commercial. First fast food commercial I’ve seen, and it’s a fast food commercial about being on the run. Definitely targeting go-getters tonight.
  4. Repeat of the Polo commercial.
  5. Inspira Health Network commercial. One call, one person, 1-800-InSpira. Longer commercial again, really laid out the whole idea (which is important since Inspira has to convey the concept of a “healthcare concierge”).
  6. Dunkin Donuts commercial. Theme is working hard, long days and late nights toward athletic success. Olympics themed, “America Runs on Duncan.”
  7. DICK’S Sporting Goods, official sporting goods sponsor of Team USA. Another commercial with a good “poem,” of sorts:  “There are trace amounts of gold in every human body.” “The highest concentration is in the heart.” “Only some of us have the strength to dig it out.” I’m moved.

Olympics now sponsored by Nationwide.

More Gymnastics.

Author: Thorin McGee

Thorin McGee is editor-in-chief and content director of Target Marketing and oversees editorial direction and product development for the magazine, website and other channels.

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