Here Are Three Golden Trends We Saw

The next best thing to attending the Olympics in Rio and seeing innovative communications strategies firsthand is having more than a dozen Hill+Knowlton Strategies associates on the ground to see, feel, and experience all the revolutionary ways customers are interacting with brands.

As the XXXI Olympiad draws to a close, one thing remains clear: Brands have not ended their love affair with the Games. NBC alone secured a record $1.2 billion in national ad sales from more than 300 brands—proof of the allure the world’s premier sporting event holds for companies looking to bolster their reputations on a global scale. But although television commercials have gotten much of the attention at the Olympics, some of the more innovative approaches to marketing happened on the ground in Rio. And as they always do when the whole world is watching, the best marketers upped the ante.

It’s no easy task to cut through the noise of an increasingly social world, where consumers have more choice than ever before and are endlessly bombarded with messaging. Here are just a few innovative approaches we saw that broke through the clutter.

1. There Have Never Been More Ways to Experience the Olympics

From the starting gun to the medals ceremonies, phones were constantly out of pockets and on parade in Rio. Not even the glory, majesty, and aura of the Olympics is immune to the tectonic changes in consumer media behavior.

“You have to be 100 percent ready at all times with on-the-spot content,” said Edson Porto, an H+K observer from Brazil. “Telling the personal stories of all the personalities involved with the Games and providing behind-the-scenes insights is one of the ways we are doing this.”

Video content is increasingly the way to tell those stories. Video now lives across many channels in many different forms, from two-minute Snapchat stories to 30-minute Olympic broadcasts, and audiences who are increasingly tethered to smartphones, tablets, and connected televisions expect to watch content whenever they please. As the media landscape moves further and further away from the firehose-style television advertising of the past, communications that provide interactive and experiential perspectives across all devices is increasingly necessary.

That much should be clear to anyone who watched Usain Bolt win the 100-meter dash on August 14. The thousands of glowing rectangles in the hands of the crowd were just a small section of a vast audience that expects to be able to capture life in real time with their phones and share the experience on social media feeds. In order to be a part of that conversation, brands have to be ready to respond with near instantaneous content to quench the thirst.

2. The Power of Influencers

Watching the Olympics on television is increasingly an older person’s game. Viewership among 18-to-34-year-olds has dropped 30 percent since the London Games. That’s not to say Millennials aren’t interested in the Games, however. To draw in young, social media-savvy viewers, brands have enlisted popular social media influencers to expose niche audiences to the Games in formats they already love. And just as it has been essential for brands to find the right medium for reaching their target audiences, it’s also essential to find the right voice in order to build a relationship. Influencers clearly already have the voice down pat—that’s how they got to be influencers, after all—and marketers that weren’t connecting with and engaging them were missing out.

“Social content is king, and social media influencers are a perfect way to allow consumers to experience the Games in ways they never have before,” said Rosalind Jeffcoat, an H+K associate in Rio.

Jeffcoat is helping to lead a unique, experiential Adidas campaign that brought nearly two dozen social media influencers to the Olympics from all over the world to create and share content on their various platforms. The goal of the campaign is to reach out to women globally and give them a unique look into the Games. It’s been a success.

“Each of these influencers has seen huge increased levels of engagement on their channels,” said Jeffcoat.

3. It’s Not Just for Company Brands Anymore

Immersive and experiential campaigns are not just for companies. Sovereign nations are getting in on the action too. More than 30 countries hoping to lure tourists, promote their exports, and put their best diplomatic faces forward for a global audience presented “National Houses” over the course of the week. The houses showcased the best of each nation and shared multiple perspectives on Olympic goodwill. The idea, which really took off during the 2012 Olympics, grew more extravagant in Rio.

H+K’s Stephen Reid, a regional director for the Middle East, helped spearhead the Qatar Olympic Committee’s National House effort. Visitors to Bayt Qatar found a replica of a Qatari market, sword-dancing shows, and interactive touch-screens filled with lessons about Qatari history and culture. All entry fees went to a Brazilian non-profit dedicated to promoting athletics in public schools. The beauty and elegance of the effort earned Bayt Qatar a spot on the Wall Street Journal’s shortlist of National Houses to visit in Rio.

One of the more interesting components of the National House campaign: Making the dreams of 16 Brazilian children from one of the toughest favelas in Rio de Janeiro come true by introducing them to some of their country’s footballing legends. The outreach was captured in a video that has received more than 15 million views on Facebook alone.

“Qatar wanted to show its passion for sport and willingness to share its tradition,” Reid said. “It worked.”

The Bottom Line

Rare global events such as the Olympics offer a timely reminder that advertising is not a commodity. True, the benefits of exposure to a global audience and the prestige and positive associations with grand athletic exhibition have been clear for decades. But to the relentless and the creative go the spoils. The communal experience of the Olympics is getting bigger and more diverse than ever before, and in the battle to reach consumers, successful marketers can’t settle for anything less than gold.

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