The Super Bowl has brought in about $5 billion since 1967 (when adjusted for inflation).
Not too shabby.
But not even close to the $1+ billion in ad spend brought in a single Olympic game like this year’s Rio.
And that’s even despite a double-digit decline in primetime TV viewership.
Here’s why, and who’s been the winners so far.
How RIO 2016 Stacks Up to Previous Olympic Games
Around 4 billion people watched the 2012 London Olympic games. But in the first few nights of this year’s Rio games, that number was already 17% down. Not that people aren’t as interested in this year’s games. NBC still plans on collecting a cool $120 million in profit. (So don’t feel too bad for them.)
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what’s going on.
Over that same time period, online users have viewed 1.86 billion minutes of this year’s coverage – topping the COMBINED numbers of London and Sochi’s Winter Games. (You know, because all of a sudden we measure things in minutes.)
The President of Research and Media Development for NBC, Alan Wurtzel, told the L.A. Times:
Viewers surveyed who tuned in the first three days of the Rio Games, 80% said they are using TV and one other device, most likely a smartphone, to follow the event. That figure is up from 61% for the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi.
In a previous piece, two keys were identified to winning this year’s games.
The first, was to create story-driven content around the culture of the games (and not just the sports themselves).
The second, was to use this approach to appeal beyond just regular sports fans (expanding reach to everyone with even a passing interest in the event).
It’s not surprising that the winner by a wide margin was a certain swimming phenom. (No, I’m not talking about that
But it’s important to realize that this winning ad almost never happened.
The Important Rule Change that Opens the Door for Advertisers
The Olympics have been notoriously picky about how their ‘intellectual property’ (HUGE sarcastic air quotes) are used by commercial companies for years.
For example in the past, only ‘Official Sponsors’ were allowed to feature Olympic athletes. Said athletes weren’t even authorized to tweet about non-official sponsors.
That all changed this last year, when new rules were adopted to allow athletes to appear in ‘generic advertising’ that doesn’t mention:
- The games themselves
- The Olympic rings
- Terms like “Olympics”, “2016”, “Rio”
- “Games” and “Gold” were also off limits
In theory, that opened the door considerably to brands looking to capitalize on the billions of eyeballs that each Olympic games garners (provided they filed some special paperwork and waivers by the beginning of the year).
That opens the door for someone like, say, Under Armour, to capitalize.
Peter Murray, VP of Global Sports Marketing at Under Armour, told AdWeek:
The USOC and IOC accepted our plans, and the process was very streamlined. The changes to Rule 40 allow us to fulfill our No. 1 objective, which is to support the Olympic athletes and hopefuls tied to the Under Armour brand during the games.
This new rule change was critical for them, seeing as they already sponsor over 250 different Olympic athletes (despite not being an Official sponsor).
None greater, though, than Michael Phelps.
“Rule Yourself” by Under Armour
The crown jewel of Under Armour’s “Rule Yourself” campaign is the Cannes-winning, 1:30-second feature following Michael Phelps on his quest to solidify his legacy as the most decorated Olympics athlete of all time.
Despite debuting just a few weeks ago, it’s become one of the most shared ads of all time.
Crafted to appeal to millennial men between 18-34, it successfully made people walk away feeling “inspired,” “amazed”, and “prideful” according to Unruly’s data shared with AdWeek.
The VP of Marketing and Insight at Unruly, Devra Prywes, told AdWeek:
Especially with younger viewers, over three-quarters will lose trust in a brand if an ad feels fake. Under Armour’s recent campaigns are all consistently authentic. They’re doing a really nice job of drawing this out and creating new content that all work really well together in their content stack, in this authentic way of portraying athletes and their origin stories, showing the things that you don’t always see.
In other words, the success of Under Armour’s rule yourself campaign had nothing to do with sports per se. But the blood, sweat, and tears each individual went through to get there.
It’s the Origin Story, which is a successful content plot that’s been around for ages and used widely (even in comics).
However, despite how popular this ad has become, it’s not even the most popular one at this event.
This one was.
“We’re the Superhumans” by Channel 4
In London 2012, Channel 4 debuted a powerful Paralympics spot that also reportedly won the Grand Prix for Film Craft at Cannes. (No biggy.)
This year, they released the ‘sequel’, “We’re the Superhumans”, that’s gone on to become one of the most shared ever, anywhere.
The ad features Paralympians doing incredible tasks that even the most coordinated might struggle with. It celebrates their ability to triumph over adversity not just every four years, but every single day.
Unruly again pops up on the scene, providing Campaign Live some details behind what makes this ad campaign so successful.
The top emotions elicited for this ad mirrored those of the previous Under Armour one, with inspiration, amazement, happiness and pride coming out tops.
For those keeping score at home, Facebook was the social platform with the most sharing by a wide margin for both ads.
How to Talk About the Olympics (Without, You Know, Talking About the Olympics)
Unfortunately, it’s not all sunshine and roses for advertisers.
Especially those like the… oh, I dunno, the other 99% of us who lack the resources to put together multi-million dollar ad campaigns for primetime.
Despite the obviously enormous price tag simply airing these ads contain, the other big hurdle included getting all of your campaign-specific information filed in time for the cutoff that ran, like MONTHS ago.
(Kinda like “He Who Must Not Be Named” from Harry Potter. Because that’s what we’ve resorted to now.)
They’re also doing an excellent job working with their athletes (who aren’t at the games) root for (and promote) those that are. For example, here’s Jordan Hamric giving #muchlove to fellow sponsor-mate Kate Grace.
Sports nutrition company Previnex is also working with pro volleyball player Kristin Hildebrand (who’s not competing) to do an ‘Instagram takeover’ and provide different exclusive, behind the scenes content (as originally highlighted in this AdWeek article).
The Summer Olympics are one of the most widely viewed events in history, regularly eclipsing the Super Bowl in both viewership and ad spend.
For years, they were also among the most restrictive of events for brands to try and piggyback on the massive attention.
However this year, the governing body loosened some of the limitations to empower brands like Under Armour to come flying out of the gates with one of the most widely shared ads of all time.
The most widely viewed though has become Channel 4’s Paralympics sequel, showcasing athletes doing tremendous feats with bravery and courage.
But the most striking thing about this year’s successful ads (and sponsored social posts) aren’t that they’re sports related.
It’s that they’re about the stories. The origins. The triumph over adversity. All of the other stuff that happens before, in between, and after each event.
Because after all, that’s what makes these games special. No matter which country, sport, or athlete we’re talking about.