Tech, Internet Brands Go for Olympic Gold

The Super Bowl might have the single largest audience of any U.S. television event, but it’s the 17-day Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City that a host of Internet companies are betting on with their marketing budgets.

One reason is the fact that General Electric’s NBC division, which won broadcasting rights to the Games, could attract a larger audience than the Super Bowl over the entire course of the Games. While the Super Bowl generally attracts U.S. audiences in the neighborhood of 130 million, the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta had about 210 million viewers.

And, some insiders say, the recent months’ patriotism could lead to even larger audiences for this year’s Winter Games. That potential mass of viewers has several major Internet and IT companies churning out Olympics-themed spots.

First out of the box was a dot-com, TMP Worldwide’s career site, Monster. The site aired its spot, “Fit Guy,” during the Super Bowl, but is expected to continue the effort during the Games. The ad, designed by Arnold Worldwide, discussed the need for even Olympians to look for a job after they’re done competing.

PC manufacturer Gateway also launched an effort in conjunction with the Olympics. This week, three television spots began airing in support of the PC maker’s Gateway Gold Medal Savings Event, which is offering special deals throughout the Games. The ads continue the company’s current campaign and features Gateway co-founder Ted Waitt and a talking Holstein cow.

Exact specifics of the buy were not available, though Gateway said it expects to reach 85 percent of Americans an average of 10 times during the Olympics.

Monster, for its part, justified the spending as it always has for marketing around large events: by pointing to past upticks in traffic after reaching mass audiences with high-priced buys. Gateway, meanwhile, is deeply immersed in price wars with competitors, and recently slashed prices across its consumer lineup. The firm said it sees the Olympics as an opportunity to spread the word about the deals.

“The Gateway Gold Medal Savings Event is all about sharing our excitement for the Olympic Winter Games with our customers. Not only are we empowering our customers with the tools to interact directly with athletes, we are also giving them the best deal ever on an award-winning Gateway PC,” said Brad Shaw, senior vice president of marketing and corporate communications. “And it’s a decisive statement by Gateway that we’re as competitive as any Olympian when it comes to value and we intend to stay that way.”

Technology services giant EDS is buying almost half an hour’s worth of television spots in an effort to communicate “longer, more detailed messages,” the company said.

Split among four new ads designed by Publicis’ Fallon unit, the buy on NBC and MSNBC will showcase three EDS solutions. “Manhattan” and “Wiggins” will focus on the company’s outsourcing business, “Suki” focuses on its security solutions, and “Paris” will highlight CRM solutions.

Executives said the campaign continues and expands on the brand’s past efforts, which had sought to build EDS’ brand as a whole using humor.

“Our 2002 strategy takes us to the next level of dialogue with our audience. We spent the last few years building brand awareness and telling the world who EDS is,” said Don Uzzi, senior vice president of global advertising, marketing and communications at Plano, Texas-based EDS. “This campaign takes that same voice and personality and provides specifics on the superior value EDS offers clients.”

Media buys are proving only one piece of the puzzle for many firms, however. Indeed, several dot-coms — with less money to spend than tech giants like EDS — are turning to that mainstay of event marketing: on-site gimmickry.

In addition to an Olympic-themed television spot, Maynard, Mass.-based Monster erected a monumental entertainment complex, complete with a 12,000-foot maze made out of snow. A second attraction, dubbed the “Monster Den,” will feature opportunities to meet U.S. Olympic Team members, play games, consume Monster-branded refreshments, and get photos alongside giant replicas of the site’s mascot, Trumpasaurus. Actors dressed as the company’s mascot also will be running around Salt Lake City during the Games, handing out knick-knacks.

Web portal Yahoo is putting its stamp on the games by setting up mobile Internet carts around Salt Lake City. The effort, which offers free cocoa and Internet access to Olympics attendees, is designed to promote the site’s Yahoo Sports area. Promotional partner Compaq is providing the PCs and iPAQ handhelds.

“The Mobile Internet Cafes in and around Salt Lake City allow us to further showcase to fans just how deep, up-to-date and easy-to-use Yahoo Sports really is,” said Brian Grey, director of business development for Yahoo Sports.

Mobile content provider MercuryGuide is working with Franklin Covey, the educational services firm and maker of executive organizers, to place kiosks in Franklin Covey stores during the Games. The kiosks will allow Palm users to download Olympic-related news and information.

A group of tech brands are also falling back on another tried-and-true tactic: trading lucrative marketing and advertising opportunities in return for their services.

Previously, IBM has held the Olympics fort on its own; executives have said the solo effort isn’t worth the payout. (The company also came under mild criticism during the Atlanta games, when a series of outages and glitches hampered connectivity.)

This year, the Games’ prime contractor for technology infrastructure is Schlumberger Ltd.’s Sema unit, which will oversee a dozen companies in setting up servers, providing bandwidth and content management services, and general technical support. For its part, SchlumbergerSema receives top-tier billing at the event, as the Games’ official IT integrator.

Qwest, AT&T, Lucent, Xerox, GE, Sun and IBM each will provide specific services or technology in return for a smaller promotional payout, such as signage around the Games, during broadcast events, and on the Games’ official site, olympics.com. Gateway, too, is participating as a vendor, donating 5,500 PCs and servers for the Games.

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