Companies Focus on Branding at Olympics

The Olympic Games (search) have long been the pinnacle of global advertising events, but this year top marketers are looking to make a different kind of splash.

Several of the biggest global Olympic partners are cutting back on Olympic-themed television commercials for the Athens Games, and using more of their year-round advertising messages or investing in broader promotions and events.

"The Olympics represent the biggest of the macro marketing opportunities, and I think we're moving into a time where events need to be micro-marketing opportunities," said Marian Saltzman, chief strategy officer at Havas agency Euro RSCG.

As one example, a touching commercial based on the hopes and fears of expectant mothers was repackaged by McDonald's Corp. (search) for use on U.S. Mother's Day in May, months ahead of its scheduled appearance as a tribute to the Games from Aug. 13-29.

Olympic advertising "is another aspect of our multidimensional brand campaign ... Our view is it should be part of our budget and not an add-on," Larry Light, McDonald's (search) global chief marketing officer, told Reuters. "Each event and each occasion has a different aspect that contributes to our overall 'I'm Lovin' It' brand attitude."

To be sure, McDonald's assembled seven fresh television spots to air during the Games, but at least three have no explicit Olympic tie-in.

The shift underscores how advertisers are moving away from a strategy of plastering one large general message across media, particularly television, toward targeting customers more precisely.

But that doesn't diminish the financial commitment for this year's Olympics. Advertisers are expected to spend up to $1.3 billion on U.S. Olympic broadcasts by General Electric Co.'s NBC alone. Separately, the International Olympic Committee estimates its 11 global advertisers paid a total $600 million in fees and services for the 2001-2004 sponsorship.

In recent years, advertisers would build major commercial campaigns around the Olympics, said David Sable, president of the Europe, Middle East and Africa region for WPP Group Plc's  Wunderman.

"They would spend in two weeks ... what they would spend in a year," Sable told Reuters at the International Advertising Festival in Cannes. "You're beginning to see more people using just good advertising, stuff they would put on all the time."


Coca Cola Co. said it has not reached a final decision on Olympic-themed TV work, but would air existing spots for its flagship cola and Diet Coke, and produce branded vignettes with NBC featuring the day's sports highlights. The company is also a sponsor of the global Olympic torch relay.

"People are being more disciplined with their brands, and they're asking if there is an appropriate connection, and if not, don't do it," said Linda Wolf, chairman and chief executive of Publicis Groupe agency Leo Burnett Worldwide.

Credit-card company Visa (search) cut the number of Olympic-themed commercials, airing three spots this year compared with five during the 2000 Sydney Games and six for the 1996 Atlanta Games.

But Visa says the ads pack a bigger punch, with its first Olympic spot on U.S. women's volleyball players spiking an icy game in the snow broadcast during the February Super Bowl (search) football game, where commercials cost an average $2.3 million. A second spot shows gold-medal hopeful, swimmer Michael Phelps, making a giant lap from Athens to New York's Statue of Liberty.

Visa has also used the tie-in to drive home its exclusive category status as the only card accepted at the Games with local promotions and signs at 200 banks and 19,000 merchants.

"The Olympics has been a cornerstone of our integrated marketing for the last 19 years," said Michael Lynch, senior vice president of event and sponsorship marketing. "I wouldn't say we're doing too much dramatically different, hopefully we're just doing it better."

Kodak , which has advertised since the first modern Games in 1896, will make a push for its digital products, including an on-site center in Athens to download and print digital photographs or send them over the Internet and a showcase for its health diagnostic imaging equipment.

"It's very much driven by the business strategies," said Greg Walker, a director managing key sponsorships at Kodak. "We've sought to broaden the involvement of more our business units beyond just our consumer business."

Some advertising experts question the value of an Olympics partnership beyond the biggest global brands, particularly as Greek authorities plan for tight security measures due to fears of a large-scale terror attack.

"It's a very risky investment to me," said Euro RSCG's Saltzman. "Then you compound what can be called the shroud of terrorism ... if you're the Olympic sponsor who's on the ground, on the scene, (if something goes wrong) you will be branded in the minds of all of those millions of global viewers."