Olympic television commercials more mainstream

[8 August 2008]

By Jennifer Mann

McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - With NBC’s kickoff of Olympic coverage, viewers have 17 days of sports programming threaded with thousands of commercials on which marketers are spending hundreds of millions of dollars.

For those buying the ads, the goal is to persuade the approximately 128 million adults in the U.S. who are expected to watch some portion of the Games to part with their dollars at a time when households are wrestling with battered budgets.

Twelve marketers - including Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Visa, Adidas and Volkswagen - are collectively spending $866 million, or $72 million each, to be global sponsors, up from a total of $600 million in 2004. And that doesn’t include advertising.

The sponsors and others are expected to spend an additional $1.5 billion for TV and online ads, which are reportedly topping at $750,000 for a 30-second TV spot in select prime-time slots, more than double the $339,000 for the 2004 Summer Olympics.

That is a far cry from the $2.7 million a 2008 30-second Super Bowl ad cost. In fact, for those expecting the Olympics to produce Super Bowl-level material, there may be a bit of disappointment.

John Consoli, a senior editor at MediaWeek, said any comparison between the Olympics and the Super Bowl ends with the fact that they are both sporting events. Unlike the Super Bowl, which for many advertisers is the creative showcase for new ads, those created for the Olympics are for the most part more mainstream and mundane.

“The Super Bowl is one time, and there are fewer than 60 ads during the entire game,” Consoli said “The Olympics will have thousands of ads and unlike the Super Bowl, where it’s a one-shot deal, viewers will see the same spots over and over.”

McDonald’s has at least two global TV commercials. “Let the Games Begin” is a fairly traditional approach showing the spirit of competition in a variety of Olympic events. The other is a more creative takeoff of the Ang Lee movie “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” in which two Chinese children fly through the air in acrobatic moves in a fight over a chicken nugget.

Walt Riker, McDonald’s vice president, says the fast-food chain realizes incredible payoff for the millions it spends on the Olympics, with which it has been involved for 40 years.

Consoli agrees there can be significant value for the companies that do advertise.

“There are a lot of intangibles, so it’s hard to quantify,” he said. “But it is family-oriented programming, and it’s an event that brings in a lot of viewers who don’t normally watch a lot of television, a lot of casual viewers, so it’s a chance to reach an audience that doesn’t normally see a lot of your TV ads, and you don’t have to worry about the storyline offending viewers.”

The Olympics are expected to be popular TV-viewing in the Kansas City area. While viewers here rank their interest in the Summer Olympics behind viewing NFL or Winter Olympic events, it ties with Major League Baseball, according to a Scarborough Sports Marketing study.

The study said about 55 percent of adults in the Kansas City area are expected to tune in to watch some portion of the games, compared with about 57 percent of all adults in the U.S.

For fans in Kansas City, the viewing should be easy - of the estimated 3,400 hours of combined TV and online coverage, more than 80 percent will be seen live in the Central or Eastern time zones. Those TV broadcasts will be either on NBC or one of its cable channels - including CNBC, USA Network and Telemundo.

Meanwhile, more than 2,200 hours of broadcasts will be available at www.NBCOlympics.com, which will also host on-demand replays of events. Additionally, fans of the lesser-seen sports, including fencing, field hockey, sailing and table tennis, will have the chance to check them out in cyberspace.

Branding consultant Rob Frankel is pointed in his skepticism about whether an audience spread thinly among so many venues will provide much payoff for the majority of marketers.

“There’s no way to cut through the clutter. There is no way to pry though the distractions, and there are no measurable results,” said Frankel, author of “The Revenge of Brand X: How to Build a Big Time Brand on the Web or Anywhere Else.”

“The Olympics and Super Bowl are pretty much like cocaine was in the ‘80s - it’s God’s way of telling you that you have too much money,” Frankel said. “The problem becomes a company has $5 million to spend and they have to get in front of a lot of eyeballs and where can you get the cheaper per-eyeball rate? The problem is when you run your creative, it’s going to be some corporate feel-good thing that really means nothing to anybody and has no impact on your bottom line other than to thin it out.”

All those outlets give NBC multiple platforms and ways to sell ads to marketers, whether on a stand-alone basis or bundled in various packages. But Consoli said don’t expect to see a lot of online-only advertisers, at least not this year.

“NBC has gone out and done deals to measure online audiences, and overnight measurements and to try to come up with data and will share that with advertisers,” Consoli said. “Then going forward, that’s something they can use to sell online.”

Then there are those who think the commercialization of the Olympics has led the Games far astray from their purpose: to showcase the best of amateur athletics from around the world.

“The horse is out of the barn on Olympic sponsorships, and the world is unlikely to see a commercial-free Games anytime soon,” said Robert Weissman, managing director of advocacy organization Commercial Alert. “The Olympic ideals of promoting authentic culture and education have been drowned beneath a sea of sponsorship and marketing arrangements.”

But Riker, of McDonald’s, defends at least that company’s sponsorship.

“First and foremost we support the ideal of the Olympics and that’s bringing people together in a peaceful venue and that’s been going on for centuries,” Riker said. “That’s what we support and we’re proud to do so.”

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/article/olympic-television-commercials-more-mainstream/