When it comes to advertising, the Summer Olympics aren’t quite the Super Bowl, but that hasn’t stopped companies from capitalizing on a US television audience that grew to more than 200 million strong during the 2008 Beijing Games.
Securing an official Olympics advertising berth takes millions of dollars and a fleet of high-quality TV ads at the ready — the kind of thing that makes sense for big-spending marketers like Procter & Gamble Co., McDonald’s Corp., or Coca-Cola. Yet a number of local ad agencies and companies are also trying to associate themselves with the global athletic event and the emotions it stirs up in consumers.
To be sure, these promotions — largely on the Web — will be offered on a smaller scale compared to some of the work expected from ad giants, but that doesn’t mean the pressure is off. The Olympics evokes grandeur, drama, and amazing feats of athleticism, so the agencies may feel the pressure to perform at a higher level.
“It’s definitely got a bit of a rock-star nature to it,” said Ted Schlueter, creative director and founder of Crunch Brands, a Charlestown ad agency that is doing work for Lexington’s Sperry Top-Sider, a sponsor of the US sailing team. “Anything associated with the Olympics is awesome,” he said, “so there is a certain intensity to it.”
There are also a few unwritten rules to follow. “There are some very specific guidelines, and we have followed those to a T,” said John Dukakis, a senior vice president and codirector of the content department at Hill Holliday, a Boston agency owned by Interpublic Group.
The International Olympic Committee has grown more strict about protecting official sponsors, and marketers sense a new willingness by the committee to go after anything ranging from an unofficial sponsor using Olympic terms in a Twitter hashtag to the use of the Games’ rings in a commercial. Advertisers who are not official are making certain there is no implied endorsement by the Olympics of the goods or services offered in their ads.
And even if unofficial sponsors have forged alliances with current Olympic hopefuls, they must limit the way they feature the athletes while the Games are in progress, the result of agreements between the Olympic competitors and the organizers of the Games.
“We are kind of shying away from mentioning London 2012,” said Glenn Paradise, president and creative director of Framingham’s Noonan Creative Group, which hopes to use a grass-roots tie-in to the Games to spark interest in Revere confectioner Necco. “We’re sort of being vague where we need to be, but at the same time converging around the sports of the Olympics.”
Hill Holliday has crafted two TV commercials with actor Paul Giamatti doing voice-overs, as well as four short documentary features with Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Lucy Walker for Boston’s Liberty Mutual Insurance.
The TV spots do not have an Olympic theme, but hew close to the company’s longtime effort to demonstrate instances when consumers could show a little more personal responsibility (and perhaps get some insurance in the process). Many advertisers who run ads during the Olympics do not necessarily trumpet the Games. The commercials often run on TV properties that have little to do with the Games, and the event’s official sponsors have more reason — and, likely, more money — to invest in ads that play largely during Olympics telecasts.
The films are set to run online where Liberty Mutual houses its Responsibility Project .One tells the story of two Mongolian archers; another explains the journey of Ailson Eraclito da Silva, a lightweight rower from Brazil who struggles with maintaining his peak weight. The idea, said Dukakis, is to attract consumers who are drawn to stories about international subjects, a trait that has been found in the insurance company’s customer base.
Where Hill Holliday wants to use the Olympics to draw attention to insurance, Noonan is seizing on the Games to spark interest in an old-fashioned candy maker.
Necco, best known for its eponymous candy wafers and Sweethearts, is running a promotion on its Facebook page asking fans to vote for their favorite US Olympic team. The winning group will get a basket of Necco sweets, and the hope is that fans might follow the prize on its journey from the candy factory to the Olympic bunch, said Noonan’s Paradise.
“They have not been top of mind for the longest time, so it’s smart to associate them with current events,” Paradise said, echoing a longstanding ad concept that attempts to harness consumer interest in big events to capture some slice of attention.
Crunch Brands is helping Sperry speak directly to sailing enthusiasts. One element of the agency’s work has been establishing a Web presence where sailing aficionados can keep up with all the athletes benefitting from Sperry’s support. Fans can find Twitter feeds, blog posts, and the like.
Normally, said Crunch Brands’ Schlueter, Sperry’s efforts in this vein would reach a narrow but important band of customers, but the Olympics “broadens the aperture quite a bit. . . . This goes way beyond sailing, to anyone who is passionate about the water.”