Olympics Wrap Up: Medals Earned and Lessons Learned

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The Rio Olympics are in the rearview, and despite initial findings from some pundits that imply brand sponsors made out poorly, Networked Insights continues to see marketing success in some unlikely places. As reported in earlier analyses of our data, Smuckers’ clever use of the #PBJ4TeamUSA hashtag contest and its association with medal winners like Conor Dwyer provided the food brand with extraordinary exposure – a 968% increase in brand awareness from the opening to closing ceremonies.

But the jam & jelly provider was not the only lesser known brand to leverage well planned social media campaigns and smart celebrity tie-ups to generate some buzz. Health club company 24-Hour Fitness enjoyed 764% more brand discussion during the course of the Games. Omega, the watchmaker, benefited hugely from its association with Michael Phelps – a 108% lift in brand discussion among consumers (44% of which can be directly tied to its Olympics marketing efforts).

Among the bigger spenders, Liberty Mutual (#84 on AdAge’s U.S. media spending list) was the clear winner, with nearly 200% more conversation occurring. TD Ameritrade’s relationships with diver David Boudia and high jumper Chaunte Lowe also boosted its visibility among consumers, and Dick’s Sporting Goods appears to have had a successful Olympics campaign.

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Airweave-Lochte-verbatimsNot all Olympic exposure was necessarily beneficial, however. Mattress brand Airweave was dragged into the Ryan Lochte “non-robbery” scandal when social media users lashed out at his corporate sponsors as it became clearer and clearer that he and his teammates were the antagonists, not the victims, in a late-night gas station incident. Although brand mentions for Airweave were up 213%, the attention is not likely what their marketing team was looking for.

Milk Life, the branding arm of one of the United States’ largest dairy farm consortiums, saw a modest 12% increase in brand conversation – but during the Olympics, nearly everything mentioned about the brand on social channels was tied to their association with Rio. The consortium leveraged a former Olympian, Caitlin Leverenze, in a live Twitter chat to discuss the lifestyle of an Olympic athlete – a tactic that generated notable discussion among consumers – and Milk Life was fortunate to sponsor 43-year-old gold-medal cyclist Kristin Armstrong, who was captured on camera in a moving moment with her son right after her record-setting ride.

Most of Kellogg’s conversation during the Games was related to their sponsorship efforts, even though overall brand conversation was down, and Bridgestone and Hershey can attribute a large portion of their brand chatter on social media in early August to the Olympic Games.

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But what about the long-time Olympic brand powerhouses – the P&Gs, the McDonald’s, the Coca-Colas? Networked Insights’ findings appear to confirm those of other researchers that the majority of brands did not see a significant brand lift due to their sponsorship activity around the Games.

Procter & Gamble earned a 10% overall increase in brand discussion among consumers – roughly 20% of which can be attributed to their Olympics campaigns – but McDonald’s and Coca-Cola did not fare that well. During the 17 days of ceremonies and competition, McDonald’s conversation was off 9% and Coke’s was off 16% — with 10% of Coke brand conversation attributed to their Olympics efforts and only 3% of McDonald’s.

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Is it fair to say these brands failed at the Olympics? Not necessarily. These, and other big spenders, run many activations throughout the year and enjoy very high brand awareness year-round. With overall viewership for the Games apparently down, it’s reasonable to expect these TV-heavy brands to suffer through no fault of their own. But the success of the smaller brands may be indicative of a trend both sponsors and the IOC and USOC must consider: Consumers’ relationship with the Games and the athletes goes far beyond what they see on TV.

The Olympics are a multi-screen, multi-device affair and will likely be so from this point forward. The success of Smuckers and Omega show that consumers still care about athletes and their stories – in some cases very deeply – but the way they become exposed to these stories and engage with them has changed.