The battle for Olympic success was not confined to the running track, swimming pool or boxing ring. London 2012 was also a golden opportunity for brands to create spreadable video content across the social web and amplify their message at a moment when the eyes of the world were watching.
After all, this was supposed to be the very first ‘Social Olympics’. With social media usage going through the roof, there had never been a better time for brands to reach out through social video to an audience glued to every run, swim or jump.
The London Games certainly lived up to its prize billing.There were more tweets sent during the opening day in London then during the whole of Beijing 2008, while the first week of the Games generated more tweets than the 2012 Super Bowl. The closing ceremony alone attracted around 116,000 tweets a minute.
However, it appears someone forgot to tell the global sponsors. Of the top 10 most shared social video ads last month, only one had a direct link to London 2012 - P&G’s Best Job, launched way back in April.
So what lessons can we draw from this Olympic-sized failure? How do brands ensure they do not miss out again in Rio 2016? And are there any trends or insights that can also be applied to brands looking to get more bang for their buck during other major sporting events, such as the World Cup or Super Bowl?
1. You don’t have to be an official sponsor
Think you have to be an official sponsor to make a splash at the Olympics? Think again.
With the right content, anything is possible. Just ask Nike. Not an official London 2012 sponsor, the sportswear giant’s cheeky ambush campaign Find Your Greatness skilfully tip-toes across the endless minefield of IOC compliance codes with all the care, diligence and skill of an Olympic gymnast.
Launched in the build-up to the Opening Ceremony, the tribute to all the back garden heroes and living room gymnasts in the world captures the Games spirit while also providing a welcome antidote to the overbearing restrictions of the Olympic brand police.
It is also performing like an Olympic medallist. A day before the Closing Ceremony Nike’s London 2012 ads had been shared 30% more than arch-rivals and official sponsors adidas (source: Viral Video Chart).
So much so, even consumers are confused. A recent survey recently found that 37% of those interviewed thought that Nike was the official sponsor, compared to 24% for real sponsor adidas.
It is not the first time Nike has ambushed adidas on the big stage. Back in the 2010 World Cup, its Write the Future campaign, starring a bearded Wayne Rooney, beat official sponsors adidas by more than a whisker, becoming at the time the most shared ad of all time. It has since dropped back to 15th. Research carried out by YouGov at the time found that Nike benefitted from the tournament more than any other brand. adidas has already pulled out of sponsoring the 2016 Rio Games. Nike is reportedly considering stepping in.
But it is not just Nike that has benefitted from having the right content at the right time, regardless of whether they were official sponsors or not.
Ask someone to name some of their favourite Super Bowl campaigns, and ‘Old Spice Guy’ will probably be on the tip of their tongues. With good reason too.
The Man Your Man Could Smell Like is a ground-breaking campaign that set the content bar for every other social video ad campaign to follow. It took a tired old brand even your dad would not want for a Christmas present and transformed it into something fresh and exciting. It resulted in a 107% sales increase in Old Spice body wash.
However, it is not a Super Bowl ad. It was simply launched at the same time to tap into the buzz around the event (tent-pole programming).
2. Make your audience emotional
Recent scientific and academic research has found that the number of shares a video attracts, whether it is user-generated or commercial, is linked to the strength of emotion it elicits from its viewers. The stronger the emotion, the more likely it is going to be shared.
With the exception of P&G’s Best Job, which accounts for 64% of the total number of shares generated by London 2012’s official sponsors, it’s a lesson that has largely been ignored by Olympic advertisers thus far.
Like the Super Bowl, the Olympics is an event that appeals to all generations and is well placed to leverage emotional and cultural triggers on a mass scale.
The Olympics is a uniquely moving event, when national pride, international unity and awe-inspiring performances can stimulate exactly the sorts of powerful, positive emotions that can drive audiences to share content in their droves.
So before releasing any video content for Rio 2016 - or indeed any major sporting event - brands should aim for material that makes us laugh, not just smile, makes us shocked, not just irritated, makes us cry, not just frown.
3. Ads don't have to feature Olympics to catch spirit of the Games
There is no other event like the Olympics. In what other sporting spectacle would you see a guy like Eric Moussambani, a ‘swimmer’ from Equatorial Guinea ironically nicknamed "Eric the Eel" due to the fact he had only just learned to swim two years before competing at the Sydney Games, competing shoulder to shoulder with some of the greatest swimmers of all time?
It’s a theme captured perfectly by Nike’s Find Your Greatness campaign, and particularly their superb ad, Jogger.
Sportswear ads usually feature the fittest, strongest and most elite of sporting celebrities. But here is one which features an overweight teenager you've never heard of.
Perhaps calling Nathan Sorrell an athlete is misleading. The 12-year old is 5 ft 3in and weighs over 90kg and he doesn't compete in any particular sport. He just wants to get fit, and he trains with the heart and commitment of a medal-winning Olympian.
Rather than presenting us with the journey of an Olympian from cradle to stadium (as P&G have done with their Raising an Olympian series), Nike presents us with a lone chubby kid who really needs to exercise on a solitary run in the middle of nowhere, busting a gut, giving it his all.
The production values of the ad reflect the everyman values of its message and are best explained by what's missing from the usual sportswear ads: no pounding soundtrack, no flashing lights, no gleaming sports celebs, no glamour, no stadium, and no spectators because there's ain't no spectacle here.
Just one vulnerable kid, exercising his body and exorcising his demons, finding his greatness. At last, an ad that everyone of us can relate to and a kid we can all root for.
4. Utilise the power of the social web
Creating a fantastic commercial that generates a lot of shares is only the first step. To take a campaign to the next level you really engage your customers you have to actively reach out to your customer base.
It is something brands simply did not manage during London 2012. Nike’s ‘Find Your Greatness’ campaign is a fantastic example. By creating a campaign around the backyard heroes and living room gymnasts rather than Olympic stars, Nike did more than dodge overbearing Olympic branding guidelines. It created something very special. However, the sportswear giant could have taken the campaign to the next level by using the ad to encourage customers to send in their own examples of greatness.
5. Seize the opportunity
You only need to look at the incredible success of Nike’s Write The Future and T-Mobile’s Royal Wedding Dance, which generated an estimated £1.6m in additional media, to see how global celebrations can lead to huge spikes in social activity.
And with 4 billion pairs of eyes watching every run, jump and swim worldwide, they don’t come much bigger than the Olympics.
However, despite this, it is an opportunity that brands have so far failed to grasp. Other sporting events like The Super Bowl, the World Cup and the Euro Championships have given rise to some of the most widely shared ads of all time.
- Nike's World Cup campaign, Write The Future was the most shared ad on the planet in 2010 - resulting in global sales lift of 7%
- VW's Super Bowl ad, The Force, is the most shared ad of all time - resulting in a 116% increase in Passat sales from previous year.
- A fifth of the top 20 ads of all time were released during the Super Bowl, World Cup or Euro 2012
Isn’t it time the Olympics did the same?