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!

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?

https://twitter.com/alex_abads/status/763000344339161088?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw

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.

Gymnastics.

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.

Do You Police Your Brand’s Ad Content?

As a long-term Words With Friends user (both paid and unpaid), I was stunned by an ad that was presented to me recently. The headline “Want a Girlfriend?” showed me pictures of scantily-clad girls who were CLEARLY under age. The call to action was a huge arrow with the word “FREE” and the copy read “Start Chatting [SIC] Now!” I was so surprised and appalled that I actually did click, because I wanted to know who the advertiser was behind this message.

Native AdvertisingAs a long-term Words With Friends user (both paid and unpaid), I was stunned by an ad that was presented to me recently. The headline “Want a Girlfriend?” showed me pictures of scantily-clad girls who were CLEARLY under age. The call to action was a huge arrow with the word “FREE” and the copy read “Start Chating [SIC] Now!”

I was so surprised and appalled that I actually did click, because I wanted to know who the advertiser was behind this message. When I did, the next screen contained a warning that “this site may contain pictures of someone you know” and that I had to be at least 21 years old.

The advertiser appeared to be “best-daily-apps.com.”

Typically, the ads presented to me on WWF include brands like Ford or Toyota, or even other games, so I was truly stunned that Zynga had even agreed to allow this type of ad to appear — and immediately assumed that someone had fallen asleep in the sales department.

So, I went on LinkedIn, identified the Zynga CMO and sent her an InMail message questioning her on how this advertiser might reflect poorly on the Zynga brand, and inviting her to engage in a dialogue. Needless to say, she did not respond.

When I first started in the advertising business, there were rules as to what you could and couldn’t say in an ad — whether it was on TV, radio or in print. Those censors still exist today — as witnessed by the recent Lane Bryant spots that were deemed unsuitable for national networks ABC and NBC. It seems that partially-clad bodies of heavy-set women are inappropriate while next-to-nude Victoria’s Secret models are just fine.

Our agency was recently challenged by Pandora on a radio spot we created for a local client. In it, an elderly grandma-type used foul language that was intentionally bleeped, so as to suggest the more colorful word, but even those bleeps were too much for the Pandora censor.

But who is policing games (from a publicly-held company, no less) or other online applications? In a marketplace that relies so heavily on advertising revenue, is there no limit on what’s acceptable? Have brands become so desperate for sales that anything goes?

Call me old, but I can no longer look at many of the online “news” sites because the digital advertising is often so prolific that I can’t read a complete reading article without getting a headache from all the advertising distractions. Call me a prude, but I don’t think Zynga should accept ads from questionable marketers like this one.

Or have brands lost their moral compass as they desperately attempt to reach their revenue goals?

I don’t know about you, but this experience with WWF has left me with a negative impression of the Zynga brand. At the very least, I question the wisdom of the Harvard grad who sits at the top of the marketing food chain.

The Data Show: #NBCFail, or What Happens When an Industry Faces Digital Disruption

Like it or not, NBC must accept the fact that its monopoly on broadcast content has been disrupted by the emergence of new technologies, most notably the Internet and the DVR. Instead of creating a business model that leverages and monetizes on this new reality, they’ve instead tried to ram an old business model down the throats of consumers across the U.S., essentially missing the forest for the trees. As a result, they’ve pissed off millions of people, devaluing their brand in the process.

Like most Americans, I’ve spent a lot of time watching the Olympics during the past couple weeks. Probably way more than I should. To be totally honest, I haven’t been the biggest fan of NBC’s coverage, and on this I’m definitely not alone. Look, for example, at the #NBCFail Twitter campaign that erupted online during the past couple weeks. Led mostly by bloggers and new media pundits, the campaign has relentlessly lambasted NBC for its poor coverage.

A major criticism by the #NBCFail folks has centered on topics ranging from showing only American competitors, to endless and annoying human interest stories, from snarky banter with condescending hosts, to strangely jingoistic flag-waving commentary. I must say I agree that it’s generally been an unpleasant experience. But, beyond poor coverage itself, NBC has also been taking a ton of flack for its new media “strategy”—if you can call it that—that includes no live streaming content on the Web. They have an App with some live coverage, but it’s only available to those with an active paid cable subscription that includes NBC already.

Now of course many in the industry have rushed to NBC’s defense. In his recent article in Ad AgeThe Truth About #NBCFail,” Simon Dumenco states quite correctly that “NBC is not a charity.” He then goes on to explain that NBC paid about $1.2 billion for the rights to broadcast the games. That’s a lot of greenbacks. Dumenco’s point is that because NBC is not listed as a 501c3 (non-profit) organization, it has every right to run in the Olympics in a manner it sees fit in order to recoup and hopefully make a profit on its hefty investment. Fair enough.

While on one hand I tend to agree with some of the points made by Dumenco and other critics of #NBCFail, on the other I really do feel that NBC has completely bungled its new media strategy. Like it or not, NBC must accept the fact that its monopoly on broadcast content has been disrupted by the emergence of new technologies, most notably the Internet and the DVR. Instead of creating a business model that leverages and monetizes on this new reality, they’ve instead tried to ram an old business model down the throats of consumers across the U.S., essentially missing the forest for the trees. As a result, they’ve pissed off millions of people, devaluing their brand in the process.

This is eerily reminiscent of what happened to the recording industry a little more than a decade ago. Remember Tower Records? Sam Goody? Virgin Megastores? All gone. And I could continue and list off dozens. Well, guess what happened? The world changed and the recording industry lost its monopoly on distribution of its primary product. What was their master plan? Suing Napster. And all that accomplished was putting off the inevitable by a couple years at most. Today, all the old players are gone and iTunes is the world’s largest retailer of music worldwide, and has been since 2009. The craziest part is that it was only launched by Apple in 2001. It happened so fast.

Well, why was Apple, a company with no experience selling music, able to swoop in and within a few years totally dominate a legacy industry, displacing existing firms? Two words: Disruption and Innovation. Disruption caused by the emergence of new technology—namely, the Internet as a means of Distribution—enabling firms with the best new ideas to unleash Innovation on an industry ripe for transformation.

NBC and the other legacy broadcast networks are now facing similar dilemma. With the emergence of the Internet as a viable distribution channel for broadcast media, their monopoly is over. Don’t like NBC’s coverage? Well, all you need to do is locate a proxy and you can watch awesome uninterrupted streaming coverage on BBC, or China’s national network CCTV, among many others. And as if this ignominy weren’t enough, Digital Video Recording (DVR) boxes in most homes mean that almost no one is watching commercials anymore. Sure, NBC can crow about its impressive ratings while it blacks out live coverage and force millions of people to watch their broadcast in primetime. But how many of these people are tape-delaying coverage by an hour and skipping the ads? Way more than they want the advertisers to think.

What this all means is that the landscape has radically changed for the networks, though they don’t seem to realize it. How long is it before most advertisers realize that the 30-second commercial is functionally obsolete? My guess is it can’t be too long. And when they do, guess what will happen? No more 30-second ads. That will mean a HUGE revenue stream dries up for the networks as the advertisers pull their campaigns en masse. In my estimation, because the networks seem completely unprepared, this shock will be even more devastating than the loss of classified ad revenues was for newspapers.

The only solution for networks, of course, is instead of fighting change and pissing off your customers with inane blackouts and insulting restrictions that don’t work, to be the harbinger of transformation and change instead of the victim. Can they do it? It’s certainly possible. Take, for example, this past year’s absolutely brilliant Final 4 strategy by CBS/NCAA. While the tournament was broadcast on regular TV by CBS without blackouts or restrictions, there was also an amazing App you could buy that offered uninterrupted access to all the games. Sure the App needed to be purchased—but the user experience was so awesome I sure didn’t mind ponying up a few bucks to install it on my iPad.

Experience after experience has shown in an effort to prevent cannibalization of their existing business model, legacy firms miss the forest for the trees and fail to innovate in time, allowing new competitors to swoop in and change the rules of the game for them. By that time, of course, it’s way too late and they’re toast. Ask Kodak about digital photography. Bet they now wish they had started the transformation to digital a few years earlier, don’t they? Or ask Borders about eBooks? I could go on and on …

So, do you think the networks will figure it out? Let me know in your comments.

—Rio