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Marketing Briefing: Ad execs and marketers say this Olympics has ‘lost its luster’

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The typical global fervor for the Olympics is lacking this year, making it less of a marketing must than in years previous.

It makes sense given the environment — we’re still in the midst of a pandemic (now dealing with new variants), athletes have had to drop out after testing positive for COVID, the lack of in-person audiences for the events have kept energies unusually low and there are protests in Tokyo to stop the Olympics altogether. All this — in addition to the recent scandal forcing out sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson — has likely diminished the appeal of the games this year, according to marketers and agency execs who say that it’s a tricky year for advertisers.

“The Olympics are still a major advertising event but it’s definitely lost its luster,” said Brendan Gahan, chief social officer and partner at Mekanism, adding that planning for this Olympics event wasn’t as big as it has been in the past. “The only thing bleeding through to the public are the controversies (cardboard beds, Sha’Carri ban, Covid cases, etc). The Olympics isn’t dominating the culture and conversation it once did.” 

The games kicked off last Friday with the Opening Ceremony and will run until August 8th. While NBC is broadcasting the Olympics in the U.S., ratings have already shown a dip — but the exact cause is unclear. “The numbers say there was a 33% drop in U.S. viewing audience compared to 2016,” said Karan Gera, svp and group planning director of Deutsch NY. “But it’s hard to say the lack of in-person audience is the reason for it.” 

As for the advertising, commercials that have appeared so far during the games feature messages of athletes’ perseverance. That’s a typical strategy for the Olympics and one that may make it more difficult for brands to stand out, according to agency execs. 

“For marketers, it seems like nothing has changed but everything has,” said James Denman, head of innovation and marketing at Yard NYC, of this year’s Olympic advertising messages. “The commercials are in the can, the manifestos are written, and the globally approved taglines are approved. What feels true this year, is that when an Olympics feels diminished, the grandiose global marketing statements seemingly shrink in parallel.” 

Without the usual attention and fanfare, this year’s Olympics will likely be yet another unusual event in a year and a half of unusual events since the onset of the pandemic for marketers to contend with and grade on a curve. 

“Watching the Olympic opening ceremony, it felt like a dress rehearsal rather than an actual ceremony for an event that brings the whole world together,” said Gera. “Maybe that is the way to look at this year’s Olympics as a dress rehearsal to how the world is coming (or trying to) out of COVID.”

3 Questions with Siobhan Nolan, vp of marketing at Spotlight Oral Care

How is your brand thinking about marketing and brand messaging this summer? How has (or hasn’t) the pandemic impacted that?

Last year we kept our marketing simple — focusing on the ingredients and the efficacy of our brand. Our customers are health conscious so in the midst of a global pandemic, we really wanted to assure them that they were using the best products possible for their overall health. This year, people are beginning to travel again. So, we have focused on more of a summer campaign — TV advertising on Love [Island] in the UK and we are also going to be launching a co-branded travel kit in the U.S. with a skincare brand that we love and are so excited about.

Given we’re not completely out of the pandemic and new variants are on the rise, how should marketers approach messaging the remainder of the summer?

The main thing is that we are considerate in our messaging. As a global brand, we are very conscious that countries are opening up at different rates. A lot of our customers may have been affected by the pandemic with illness with family members, potential job losses and long periods without being able to see family. So while we will celebrate the end of this pandemic with our customers, we will remain conscious that it has hugely affected people and will be considerate of that fact in our marketing.

Are there plans for the Spotlight team to return to the office or continue remote work?

We will continue to work remotely but provide the opportunity for teams to meet and have time together when it’s safe to do so. It’s important to have that personal contact but it’s also great that we can be flexible with staff with what works for them. We are in different countries, time zones, etc. so working from home provides the flexibility to jump in and out when you need to. And we love that we get to see families, dogs and insight in our staff’s homes! — Kimeko McCoy

By the numbers

Since 2020’s whirlwind of political events, social justice movements and climate change crusades, marketers have made it a point to make social activism part of their core strategy. For example, when Georgia moved to pass new restrictive voting legislation, brands like Delta, The Home Depot and Coca-Cola released statements. However, the brand messaging was perceived as performative, which led to threats of brand boycotts. While social activism marketing may seem like a win for advertisers, shoppers feel differently, especially when it comes to millennials and Gen Zers. Recently, MullenLowe U.S. released a study looking at the efficacy of brands getting involved in politics and other social issues. Find the breakdown of the numbers below:

  • Regardless of whether the decision aligned with their beliefs, 41% of Americans somewhat or strongly agreed with brands making a public statement about their stance on the new voting law in Georgia.
  • 41% of people also agree that more brands need to proactively speak out against legislation that threatens to restrict voting rights. 
  • Conservatives (58%) felt strongly that the brands who spoke out against the Georgia voting law only did so to garner positive publicity. — Kimeko McCoy

Quote of the week

“The brands that are progressive in this area are the ones that understand the fact that self-expression is such an important component of why people spend so much time online. They can be who they want to be.”

— Christina Wootton, vp of brand partnerships at Roblox, told gaming reporter Alexander Lee about brands getting into then Metaverse (the piece was a WTF of the Metaverse).

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