Reinvention and Controversy Surround Olympic Content Marketing Efforts

Even though we’re only five months past the big game, the typical consumer probably can’t recall more than one or two 2012 Super Bowl spots. That’s because these brief 30-second intervals, which resonate so powerfully for everyone in the advertising industry, are but fleeting moments to avid football fans and Super Bowl party-crashers. Conversely, the 2012 Olympics represent a two-and-a-half-week window to captivate and capture the global consumer. With a plethora of powerful and positive themes surrounding the Games – hard work, teamwork, fair play, healthy living, global unity, and peace, among others – the 17 days of Olympic competition are the ideal time for brands to build (or rebuild) their global reputations and consumer affinity.

In fact, since the inception of the modern Games in 1896, brands have leveraged the event as an advertising opportunity, according to During the Antwerp Games in 1920, companies were given permission to incorporate corporate advertising in the Olympic Games program. By the Tokyo Games in 1964, 250 companies had forged marketing relationships with the Olympic Games, including tobacco sponsorships, which generated more than $1 million through the Olympia cigarette brand (more on possible ill-thought sponsorships later). During the 1994 Games in Lillehammer, more than $500 million was generated from broadcast and marketing programs.

With the rise of social media and content marketing, today’s Olympic marketing strategies enable brands to align themselves with the Games in a way that connects them directly to consumers in whatever way they deem most appropriate. This year, several major brands stirred up a little controversy by attempting to use the positivity and energy surrounding the events to reinvent their global images.

For Coca-Cola, an Olympic partner since the 1928 Amsterdam Games, the 2012 Games represent an opportunity to position itself as an advocate of healthy lifestyles. Coca-Cola’s “8-Pack” marketing campaign spotlights eight Olympic athletes who will serve as “Ambassadors of Active Living.” The campaign will feature spots that detail each athlete’s personal story of athletic triumph and will be supplemented by customized prize packs designed to encourage health and physical activity. It will run alongside Coca-Cola’s “Move to the Beat” campaign, which features a desktop app that creates individualized beats for consumers based on their music and sports interests as well as an hour-long documentary about British producer Mark Ronson’s creation of an Olympic anthem.

McDonald’s will also leverage the 2012 Games to position itself as a champion of well-being. In addition to creating the world’s largest McDonald’s restaurant on-site, the fast-food chain will serve Happy Meals that feature healthy options and it will use fresh ingredients from local farmers in Britain and Ireland in all of its food. In order to promote sustainability, McDonald’s will repurpose each of the restaurant’s four physical Olympic locations in its other U.K. restaurants after the Games have ended. In addition to its move toward healthy living, McDonald’s will send guerilla film crews to the Games to document fan reactions, and the company will enable people to upload their own videos and photographs to Facebook, with some of the content to be repurposed to chronicle the Games after their conclusion.

Both the Coca-Cola and McDonald’s campaigns have generated a fair share of backlash because of perceived hypocrisy on behalf of the sponsors. International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge recently admitted that the IOC questioned whether Coca-Cola and McDonald’s and their unhealthy products should be Olympic sponsors. Despite the outcries (whether you perceive them to be reasonable or not), the campaigns shrewdly reflect what the Olympic Games are all about: turning hard work and healthy living into a chance to reinvent oneself.

BMW will use the Olympics Games as an opportunity to position itself as a leading technology manufacturer. The company has collaborated with U.S. Olympic Committee sports scientists to develop financial and performance technology assistance to help long jumpers track vertical and horizontal velocity and jump angle based on sensory feedback, according to an April Wall Street Journal report. The sponsorship drew some ire from the media recently. The Guardian claimed BMW was hypocritical in “lobbying to water down European plans to improve the fuel efficiency of cars at the same time as trumpeting its green credentials,” after the automaker unveiled the 4,000 green cars it produced for transportation during the London 2012 Games. An internal BMW review obtained by The Guardian outlines the company’s “opposition to European commission proposals for a tougher limit on carbon emissions.”

Like the Coca-Cola and McDonald’s campaigns, BMW’s has generated enough buzz to build up to and last well beyond the 2012 Games. Whether or not one believes the brand’s content, sponsorship, or products to be hypocritical, BMW has produced quality marketing materials and sponsorship products that have become the focal points of the overall Olympic marketing dialogue. If you disagree, just think about the last time you read an article that referenced BMW as anything other than an automaker, let alone a technology manufacturer.

Not every brand chose to reinvent itself (and inadvertently [or intentionally] drum up controversy). Instead of giving itself a facelift, Procter & Gamble (P&G) is changing the way Olympic marketing is done. While the majority of brands have historically chosen to focus on the stars of the Games – the athletes themselves – P&G will feature the athletes’ moms. The campaign’s branded content tells the story of several Olympic mothers and what each had to overcome to raise her child prodigy. The campaign hits P&G’s wheelhouse, the middle-aged mom consumer, while acknowledging and aligning itself with the power of Olympic competition – a tried-and-true (and uncontroversial) method with its own P&G-inspired twist.

Related reading

Overhead view of a row of four business people interviewing a young male applicant.