Advertising and Sports: What Will Be the Impact of the Rio Olympics?

olympic swimmer
By Sara Rider   |   May 12, 2016

It’s now less than 86 days till the 2016 Summer Olympics open in Rio de Janeiro on August 5th.

No matter what story lines unfold with polluted water, deadly mosquitoes and the inevitable doping scandals, companies will be looking for ways to use the cache of the Olympics to build their brands. But is the promotional impact of the Olympics limited to those companies with big budgets and a direct sports connection?

Building your Brand

If your company doesn’t have an obvious tie-in to sports and you lack the big bucks budgets to pay for high-dollar endorsements, are you shut out of the Olympic mystic? Not necessarily.

Consider two of the advertising campaigns that featured in the 2012 London Olympics, cited by the Hubspot blog as among the most successful of the 2012 games.

The first was the Procter and Gamble “Thank You, Mom” campaign.  In case you don’t remember, this campaign featured athletes from all over the world. The spots showed them growing up and training for their sports, always with the support and help of their mothers.

Proctor and Gamble doesn’t have a direct relationship to sports, but the theme of the campaign was one that everyone could identify with.

McDonald’s also drew on a variety of themes with its “Win When USA Wins Gold” campaign. In this campaign, new menu items under 400 calories each featured a US Olympian. And when that Olympian won a gold medal, you became eligible for a prize.

Fast food isn’t an automatic match with the Olympics, but the “winning together” theme helped form a connection between the company’s new menu and the Olympics.

In fact, the Olympics are a natural platform for a product launch, or introduction of a new service. It’s a matter of finding a theme that ties your brand into the Olympic spirit—and then executing it in a way that will fit your marketing budget.

Athletes to Boost Sales

Of course, for companies with bigger marketing budgets, endorsements from star athletes are part of their marketing mix throughout the year.

From Wheaties’ boxes that feature Olympians to jeans manufacturers who use former quarterbacks to tout their products, marketing executives have learned that athletes help sell products.

Many companies believe that athletes help create connections between their brand and the consumer, and that this connection is critical to their company’s success.

The New York Times predicts that many companies will be looking for the next big thing from this summer’s Olympics—a new hero/heroine that they can use to promote their product.

Of course, established Olympians like Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt—both of whom will be competing in their final Olympics—can also factor into the equation.

So why you may not be able to afford an endorsement from an Olympic gold medalist, you may be able to find ways to build ties with athletic organizations in you own market and develop some of the same sense of connection with your audience.

Building on the Story

NBC Sports has identified 100 storylines to follow at this year’s Olympics, including gymnast Simone Biles, who hasn’t lost an all-around competition in nearly three years, and the U.S. Women’s Basketball Team, with an even longer win streak of 41 straight Olympic game wins since 1992.

Or American fencer  Ibtihaj Muhammad, who will make history this summer in Rio by being the first U.S. athlete to compete at the Olympics in a hijab, the headscarf worn by Muslim women.


In fact, the next hot star may well be a woman Olympian. AdWeek reports that brands are choosing more female athletes for their endorsements, although only two women (Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova) have cracked the list of top 100 grossers when it comes to endorsement dollars.

But many firms are starting to realize that there is a correlation between building your brand with a female athlete and the purchasing power of women, who control 70 to 80 percent of consumer purchases.

According to AdWeek, many brands have decided that female consumers—particularly millennials—are more interested in authentic stories of accomplishment and adversity, and that many of these types of stories come from female athletes.

So when you’re looking for other ways to connect to your potential consumer, you may find that women athletes can be a vital part of your marketing mix.

Making it Local

You may not have the dollars for a media buy on your local NBC affiliate during the Olympic broadcasts, but one of the many other NBC media outlets may fit your budget.

Or you can use social media or other means to tie your campaign to the Olympics—and not participate in the anticipated $1 billion in ad sales that NBC expects from its Olympic investment.

It’s all about the right message and the right creative to help your company or cause go for the gold.  And if you need help finding the right combination, we’re always ready to lend a hand.


Sara Rider

About the Author

Sara Rider, Vice President at DeLaune & Associates, has written extensively for the healthcare, financial, non-profit, and technology industries for more than 30 years.

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