The Olympic Games are always remembered for star athletes and memorable performances, and the 2016 Rio Olympics were no exception. Gymnast Simone Biles and swimmer Katie Ledecky became household names. Swimmer Michael Phelps and sprinter Usain Bolt added to their legendary Olympic resumes.
Like the Super Bowl, the Olympics are sometimes remembered for the ads and special stories sponsored by major brands. According to AdAge, during the Rio Olympics, brands spent $1.2 billion on sponsorships and advertising, hoping to increase brand awareness, buzz, loyalty and sales.
Some brands struck gold. Others fell far short of their goals. After all, for every Simone Biles who inspires us, there’s a Ryan Lochte who leaves us scratching our heads.
To get a better idea of which Olympic advertisers were the big winners and which ones never approached medal status, InfoScout surveyed nearly 3,000 Olympics viewers. Survey respondents fell into three levels of viewers: heavy (daily or multiple times per day), medium (weekly or multiple times per week) and low (once or twice during the entire Olympic Games). Our goal was to find out how they watched the Olympics, which ads viewers recalled, and the brands they associated with these ads.
Live Broadcast TV Still Rules
The vast majority of all Olympics viewers (86%) watched the Olympics on live TV, and 76% said they watched the Olympics more on live TV than any other medium (recorded TV, recorded online, online streaming, mobile, social media, etc.).
This reinforces the value of TV advertising during live programming such as sports events and awards shows. Viewers want to know what happens in real-time, and fear of missing out is often enough to motivate viewers to sit through ads rather than change the channel.
Brands that Won the Olympic Ad Games
Procter & Gamble (P&G) struck gold with its “Thank You, Mom” campaign. These ads were most recalled by both heavy viewers (49%) and medium viewers (31%). 59% of viewers associated “Thank You, Mom” ads with P&G. There was one negative for P&G as more than one in five Olympics viewers (21%) associated “Thank You, Mom” ads with Johnson & Johnson, while 9% associated the ads with SC Johnson.
The next most recalled campaign was the “Breakfast of Champions” campaign from Wheaties, which was recalled by 34% of viewers even though Wheaties was not an Olympics sponsor. These ads featured Olympians but aired outside of Olympics coverage.
The “Hello from Home” campaign from Hershey’s, featuring Simone Biles and Jordan Burroughs, also scored high marks from Olympics viewers. 74% of viewers associated ads featuring Simone Biles with Hershey’s, while ads featuring Jordan Burroughs were associated with Hershey’s by 59% of viewers.
United’s “One Journey, Two Teams” campaign achieved similar success as 70% of all viewers associated the ads with United. However, 9% of viewers associated the ads with AT&T and 8% associated them with Samsung.
Brands that Missed the Mark
Beverage brands seemed to struggle at the Olympics – not because their ads weren’t recalled, but because other brands were getting credit for them. The biggest example of this disconnect occurred with Budweiser’s “America Can” campaign. 33% of all viewers associated these ads with Coca-Cola, a major sponsor, compared to 29% with Budweiser. In fact, brand association was higher with Coca-Cola than Budweiser in all three viewing categories.
Oddly enough, Pepsi, which did not sponsor or advertise during any part of the Olympics, was associated with Budweiser’s “America Can” ads by 11% of all viewers.
Coca-Cola also benefited from Gatorade’s “Never Lose the Love” campaign as 30% of all viewers associated those ads with Coca-Cola, compared to just 17% for Gatorade. Other brands associated with Gatorade’s ads include Pepsi (13%), Nestle (11%), Budweiser (10%) and Dr. Pepper (9%).
Samsung’s “The Anthem” campaign was seemingly off-target as more people associated the ads with AT&T (20%) and United Airlines (19%) than Samsung (17%). 13% of all viewers associated Samsung ads with both Toyota and Apple, neither of which advertised during the Olympics.
Brands that Saw Mixed Results
Under Armour’s “Rule Yourself” campaign featuring Michael Phelps did well on the surface as 60% of all viewers associated those ads with Under Armour. However, 25% associated Under Armour ads with Nike. 46% of all viewers associated the “Rule Yourself” ads featuring the women’s gymnastics team with Under Armour, compared to 28% for Nike.
Minute Maid’s “#doingood” campaign featuring Missy Franklin experienced similar results. Although 28% of all viewers associated the ads with Minute Maid, 16% of viewers associated them with both Pepsi and Coca-Cola.
The “Friends Win Campaign” was a bit of a mixed bag for McDonald’s as 41% of all viewers associated the ads with McDonald’s, far more than any other brand. However, brand association was scattered. Viewers associated these ads with Domino’s (17%), Dunkin Donuts (10%), Starbucks (10%) and Subway (10%), none of which sponsored or advertised during the Olympics.
Stories Can Help Brands Win the Gold in the Next Olympics
Brands that won, with the likes of P&G, Hershey’s and United, focused their messaging around an emotional and inspiring story and less on the brand name or logo.
Let’s take the “Thank You, Mom” campaign from P&G, for instance, and compare against Budweiser. P&G focused their campaign around the impactful role mothers of Olympians play in their children’s lives, without any focus or representation from P&G’s brand portfolio or the company logo until the very end. Budweiser, on the other hand, focused their campaign around a party atmosphere, with multiple visuals of the actual can and logo, but missed the mark when it came to emotional stories that resonated with viewers, which may have been the reason behind a lower brand association.
In a future post, we’ll dig deeper into the effectiveness of the ad campaign with the highest brand association (P&G’s “Thank You, Mom”), how it resonated with consumers and the impact of the campaign on purchase behavior.