5 ways brands are engaging with the Olympics

Both The Games themselves and the many screen options are different this year, and associated marketing made the most of both prescient and traditional themes.

The everlasting nature of Olympics ideals - persevering and making sacrifices in the pursuit of excellence - gives marketers plenty of positive values to work creatively with in 2021. Yet these are the Olympics of the new normal and things have changed.

“We’re not in a normative marketing realm,” Havas Media Australia chief marketing officer, Francis Coady, tells CMO. “The journey of the Olympics has been fractured by Covid but we’re in a fractured entertainment landscape, too.” 

Just look at the countless entertainment options competing for attention on screens alone, all compounded by lockdown. Aside from the fractured times in which these Olympics are held, Coady says the marketers’ task to “bring to life what is essentially passive event for viewers” is already a tall order.

Seven West Media director of Olympics, Kurt Burnette, says advertising is running the gamut of themes and creative approaches. Many are in the context of the Olympics, yet others aren’t mentioning the Olympics at all.  SportFive, which markets sponsorships for the Australian Olympic Committee, is also seeing creative approaches explored in different ways. 

“These range from emphasizing the brand’s community objectives to corporate social responsibility, objectives for their motivational employee programs,” says SportFive managing director A/NZ, Damien Moston. 

Burnette notes it’s an important time for many brands, pointing to state tourism bodies as one example. Big retailers, meanwhile, are always keen to get Olympics exposure to the mass market. But less known and unexpected brands are also aligning themselves to these Games: According to Burnette, 60 per cent of Seven’s advertisers were not advertisers with Rio in 2016.

“Companies just starting to build their profiles such as Aware Super, and home loan provider, Wisr, are advertising this year. Then there’s others like Nike, which are back after not having been seen for the last few Olympics that Seven has been involved with,” Burnette says.

“There are other financial services and payments companies like Afterpay, which are from categories that might not have existed during the last Olympics. There’s also a big new push from content providers and streaming services such as Amazon and Disney.” 

Read more: Alibaba talks about its Olympics partnership

Read more: How this year's Olympic Games could break new advertiser and consumer records

Here, we investigate several of these brand creative and content approaches and key themes arising around this year’s Tokyo Olympics. 

1. Social issues

Brands align themselves with the Olympics because Games participants represent the best of us, thus polishing the image of a good corporate citizen. Allianz is one brand that’s been brave enough to deviate from traditional Olympics values, broadening its messaging to encompass wider social problems relevant to the Olympics but also heightened in this era of isolation and accelerated mental health concerns.

Allianz’s Wellbeing Week, an annual community mental health event, first ran in September 2020. It’s not stretching a long bow to connect with the Games: An elite athlete’s journey is never easy but now, more than ever, it demands extra resilience and mental strength. Wellbeing Week offers different themes, activities and speakers daily including athletes speaking about how they deal with mental challenges. 

Credit: Allianz

Allianz is the official insurance partner of the Australian Olympic and Paralympic Teams and the virtual week runs regardless of lockdown. This year, it will run after the Olympic athletes have returned from Tokyo. It’s a community program also being offered to Paralympic athletes who may still be in hotel quarantine.

The daily Wellbeing Week program from 7-11 September can be streamed on the Australian Olympic Team website.

Optimism in action, meanwhile, is at the core of Optus ‘Yes’ campaign, which fits naturally with the AOC catchline, ‘Have a go’ and values of perseverance.  Yet Optus’ Tik Tok campaign featuring ex-Olympians and Paralympians backfired when it encouraged all Australians to learn Auslan signs for ‘How are you?’ and ‘It starts with Yes’. The goal was to show how inclusion and education starts easily with positivism.

However, community group, Deaf Victoria, complained community consultation was inadequate and the design was disappointing. Optus quickly apologised and paused the Tik Tok campaign. 

“One of the brilliant things about the Olympics now is the way the Paralympics are being dialled up,” comments Coady. “But it’s vital for a brand not to be seen to be leveraging for the sake of it.”

2. Inspiration

The ‘Olympics Unleashed’ program, presented by Optus and the AOC over the last two years, has enabled more than 200 aspiring, current or retired Olympic athletes to inspire 180,000 school students. The athletes tell students of their experiences of goal setting, overcoming challenges and improving self-esteem.  

“These athletes will inspire the next generation by sharing powerful stories of determination, personal growth and success,” Optus managing director, marketing and revenue, Matt Williams, says.

So too will those inspired students share stories of the athletes’ school visits with their families in word-of-mouth about a partnership that is making a substantial difference to the next generation.

Web hosting platform for small-to medium enterprises, GoDaddy, is also aligning itself and its clients with hardworking athletes. In its messaging, the company notes its own research showing almost one quarter of all Australians dream of starting a business. 

Credit: Godaddy / Silverspell

As GoDaddy points out, elite athletes have little time outside sport to earn money but they often have a side-hustle to keep them afloat. 

Successful diver, Melissa Wu, who runs her own business, is GoDaddy’s marketing ambassador in the ‘Dream it. Build it’ campaign created in partnership with Silverspell. GoDaddy is the website building partner for the Australian Olympic Team.

3. Humour 

When it works, humour is one of the quickest ways to grab audience attention in a way that makes an ad memorable. Continuing its creative approach, Meat and Livestock Australia is running a tongue-in-cheek ad about nutrition and competition, ‘Feed Your Greatness’. 

The ad, created with The Monkeys, sits viewers down at the dinner table with world champion javelin thrower, Kelsey Lee-Barber, and family. Kelsey and her brother fight over last piece of nutritious rare beef which will help one of them be their best. The joke is on Kelsey as her brother, encouraged by their mum, seems to have greater need than the Olympian to be his best for a dance comp and wins the last piece. 

Non-bank lender, Wisr, is running a series of ‘For your smart part’ ads with the Olympics broadcaster but makes no play on the Olympics or its themes. Instead, the creative emphasis is on people who need Wisr financial help. 

In its ads, the narrator captures a few individuals in their most stupid moments. The close-mic voice manages a personal intervention by calmly and carefully talking the character out of their next - no doubt disastrous move - and asks to speak to their ‘smart part’.  The ads, created in partnership with Bear Meets Eagle on Fire, depict a series of averted disasters including electrocution by using a metal fork to rescue something burning in a toaster, foamy nausea from soap eating, and the death of a honey hunter by a million bee stings. 

Wisr CEO, Anthony Nantes, says the intention is to go for the biggest audience with the firm’s first national brand awareness campaign. This was also timed to support the firm’s recent brand redesign, new website and financial wellness platform, which combines loan products, tools and resources.

“There is no greater audience or event that delivers a better return on investment than the Olympic Games, with a huge reach into Australian homes, concentrated in a few action-packed weeks of high excitement and emotion,” Nantes says. “From a brand perspective, it offers a rare, ultra-impactful and cost-effective outcome.”  

Also taking a humour-led approach is AAMI. The insurance brand’s hapless character, Keith, thinks he in his element in his backyard, but is proven wrong. Through the creative, produced in partnership with Ogilvy Melbourne, AAMI shows how the safety of the backyard can suddenly turn into an Olympic–sized accident.

In Keiths’ hands, the barbequed sausage becomes a fiery relay baton run through an obstacle course, his power hose turns him into a flailing gymnast and a bit of DIY turning into a hammer throw that ends in a shattered television. The solution posed is ensuring you have the right level of insurance.  

Credit: AAMI

4. Community support

A brand with an emphasis on community building is Westpac. In its proposed outdoor program of live sites, the bank was looking to foster local community celebrations in the vein of the Sydney 2000 Games. With the full plan of 33 live sites mauled by Covid, Westpac is nevertheless operating or planning to operate 22 sites during the Olympics.

Brisbanites are enjoying the biggest party, no doubt enhanced by the announcement of the state’s hosting of Brisbane 2032 Olympics.   As the banking partner to Australian Olympic Team, Westpac is also helping create financial tools and educational modules to help Olympians be financially secure during and after competition.

A very different community, this time in online gaming, is being cultivated by nWay via its Olympic-themed digital entertainment comprising non-fungible (NFT) Olympic pins and cross-play multiplayer video games under licence with the IOC. The purely digital NFT pins bank on nostalgia, as does the full range of collectibles which recycles the art of Olympics past and posters, emblems and mascots. 

Collectors of these intangibles can buy on nWayPlay.com or from other collectors in its marketplace. Collectors will also be able to earn them by playing real-time Olympic-themed video games when they’re launched later this year by nWay, whose parent company is games developer, Animoca Brands.

Snapchat is jumping on the Olympics bandwagon by launching new digital features that again bring its community closer to the action. In an IOC production, ‘Best of Olympics’, Snapchatters can hear world athletes’ stories from past Olympics. New episodes on the Olympics' most historical moments are released daily in the Discover section of the app.  

A body-tracking global Augmented Reality Lens, available in Snapchat’s carousel, then aims to motivate fans to train like an Olympian. Those that complete three exercises within a time limit are ‘rewarded’ with a fireworks display. 

From a wider fan engagement perspective, the AOC’s first digital, fan-engagement platform, TeamAUS hub, features brands such as Woolworths, Speedo, Omega, Westpac and Asics sharing offers, competitions and prizes and digital coupons. The platform was built using Komo's solutions and is designed as a digital destination for fans to engage with live events via exclusive content, gamified competitions, chat and fan-generated content. 

Gamification tactics included in TeamAUS hub include polls, quizzes, live trivia and predictive games. The AOC and Komo said the intention is to learn from this year’s fan engagement to then develop the 2022 Beijing Games platform.

5. Health and family

Sticking to its family creative, Woolworths’ family-focused Aussie Heroes program includes collectible, swappable stickers featuring Olympians plus information online for kids to find out more about their heroes, including their favourite fresh foods, in a link back to Woolies’ everyday catchline. 

Credit: Woolworths

The supermarket is also refreshing its long-time identity as the ‘fresh food people’ with an ad first aired during the opening ceremony. There’s a strong green theme - not only does everything look and rhyme with green, the supermarket has announced a promise to clean, green lighting in all its stores by 2025.

Westpac is offering families with kids ‘Olympics Live in Your Lounge Room’. The hub encourages all to party at home with the family in a decked-out lounge room, then capture their moments and post them on social media to win prizes.

Advertising by ASICS, the uniform supplier to the Australian team, aligns more directly to the athletes wearing them. Its ads, ‘Be moved’, were created in partnership with agency, Chisel, and stick to the traditional logic of Olympic heroes on the world stage inspiring all to be emotionally moved by their endeavours.

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