Olympics’ Social Rings

For the advertising and media worlds, the Vancouver Winter Olympics, which open Feb. 12, are a needed shot in the arm. This year, unsurprisingly, brands are putting more attention on digital initiatives that tap into social media. Think of it as a market B12 injection.

They’re plowing money that in previous Olympiads would have been spent in TV into digital channels that barely existed during prior games, using athlete blogs, tweets and mobile to drum up buzz before and during the games. What’s more, compared to efforts around the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics, social media initiatives are more integrated with campaigns and less often add-on components.

Samsung, one of nine Olympic Worldwide Partners, is enhancing its typical on-site marketing initiatives and TV spots with a social media campaign. In it, 10 teams of two “Mobile Explorers” to the games will record their experiences via blog posts, videos and Twitter updates. The company will run their experiences on an MSN microsite.

“People are blogging with their phones and taking photos with them,” says David Steel, svp of strategic marketing, Samsung Electronics America. “The timing seems perfect to have a program oriented around mobile social networking.”

Other sponsors hope to generate buzz by marrying athlete sponsorships with social media. Panasonic is using the games as a launch pad to market its high-definition 3-D home entertainment systems. The Japanese company, also an Olympic Partner, has a blog called “One Winter, Five Dreams” chronicling the efforts of five Winter Games athletes, including an Ethiopian cross-country skier and Turkish figure skater.

As a way to encourage engagement, Panasonic will give away a trip to the Olympics selected from readers who post messages, write an entry on their own blogs about the athletes or use other social media like Twitter to promote it. The “Gold Blogger” will be sent to Vancouver to write about the athletes and their performances.

To be sure, social media represents only a tiny fraction of the amount marketers will spend during the Olympics, close to $900 million of which is tied up in TV spots. With TV spending off what NBC hoped, some agency executives say Olympics-related digital projects have been scaled back. The Winter Olympics also take a back seat to the more popular Summer Games ratingswise.

TV ads still predominate in most top advertisers’ plans, while online has served the role of building buzz before the event and extending TV-led efforts during the games. Olympics sponsor Visa is looking to generate some conversation around the athletes it sponsors via its Team Visa program. It rolled out a pair of national TV spots prior to the games, created by TBWA Worldwide, to promote a contest for Visa cardholders to win a trip for four to the event.

High-profile athletes like snowboarder Lindsay Jacobellis and skier Julia Mancuso take center stage at the “Go World” campaign’s microsite, where the brand features athlete videos, photos and widgets that tie into nets like Facebook. Visa is customizing the program for global markets, featuring a different set of athletes for Canada and Russia. It is also giving away a trip for two to the Olympics for life to one Visa cardholder.

McDonald’s, which serves as the official restaurant of the Olympics, is running a diet of TV spots in addition to in-store promotions involving athletes it sponsors. Its U.S. campaign is geared to promoting Chicken McNuggets. The campaign has the tagline “How do you McNugget?” and features athletes offering their answers. McDonald’s is distributing the videos on YouTube and other social venues.

NBC Universal, which controls all U.S. TV rights to the Olympics, is getting into the act. It linked with Twitter and social media firm The Swarm Collective to produce Olympic Pulse, where visitors can view athlete tweets, NBC Olympics blogs and top trending stories on social news site Digg.

In the Olympics home country, Petro-Canada ran a campaign on Facebook that used the site’s engagement ads to gain entries for one fan to become a “family correspondent” at the Games. Contestants were asked to upload a 30-second video of themselves and a family member explaining why they should report live from the Olympics. The winner will use Facebook, YouTube and Twitter to post reports. An Ontario brother and sister were named winners of the “Dream Big” contest. Petro-Canada is also inviting Facebookers to send around virtual versions of its Olympics collector’s edition glasses.

These programs stand in contrast to Beijing where social programs were often quite distinct from the lion’s share of the marketing program. Lenovo had perhaps the most heralded social media effort then, featuring 100 athletes blogging from the games using Lenovo laptops and equipment. For all its success, the effort stood mostly to the side of Lenovo’s advertising.

Not all Olympics sponsors are diving deeply into the social waters. Coca-Cola, one of the Olympics’ largest advertisers, isn’t doing much in the area outside of an online casual game called “Open the Games” that it will distribute through Coke sites. Tom Bedecarre, CEO of digital agency AKQA, says the Winter Olympics were not as high of a priority for many of its global clients: “For a lot of our global brands, the World Cup is a bigger priority than the Winter Games.”


When the curtain falls on NBC Universal’s coverage of the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, the programmer will have aired 835 hours of action, representing the most total hours ever for a Winter Games. In fact, NBCU’s slate will offer viewers more Olympics programming than the 2006 Torino and 2002 Salt Lake City games combined.

Beginning Feb. 12, NBCU will spread its coverage across five linear TV networks (NBC, USA Network, MSNBC, CNBC and Universal HD) as well as the dedicated Web site NBCOlympics.com. In contrast to the Summer Games schedule, viewers won’t find supplemental Olympic competition on Bravo, Oxygen or Telemundo.

NBC’s schedule is divided into three dayparts: afternoon (2-5 p.m.), prime time (8-11:30 p.m.) and late night (12:35-5 a.m.), accounting for a total slate of 193.5 hours over 17 days. The bulk of the broadcaster’s prime-time coverage will be devoted to men’s and women’s figure skating and alpine skiing, although NBC will also offer a nightly soupçon of freestyle skiing, speed skating and snowboarding.

Among the American athletes on whom NBC will lavish attention are gold-medalist speed skaters Apolo Ohno and Shani Davis; world champion alpine skier (downhill, Super G) Lindsey Vonn; and snowboarding icon Shaun White.

Meanwhile, USA and MSNBC will act as the home of hockey and curling. Team USA hockey games (both men’s and women’s) will be seen live during USA’s noon-5 p.m. window, while the news net will host the Feb. 21 USA-Canada preliminary. USA’s 41 hours of coverage begins Feb. 14, while MSNBC’s daily 5:30 p.m.-8 p.m./3 a.m.-5:30 a.m. split shift kicks off Feb. 13. CNBC will devote 12 daily hours to the games (5 p.m.-5 a.m.), totaling 100.5 hours of live curling, biathlon and other events. Lastly, Universal HD will repurpose USA’s coverage the next morning (9 a.m.-noon).

If Team USA is as dominant as anticipated, NBCU viewers are in for a stateside medal fest. “What’s unique about Vancouver is that more than any time in winter sports history, the U.S. has emerged as the dominant power,” says Dick Ebersol, chairman, NBC Universal Sports & Olympics and executive producer of NBC Universal’s Olympic coverage. “I remember the 1964 and 1968 Winter Olympics when the U.S. team won one gold medal in each.”

On the Web, NBCU will stream 400 of hours of full-length live events and 1,000 hours of on-demand replays, highlights, montages and clips that highlight specific athletes. NBCOlympics.com is again being powered by Microsoft’s Silverlight Web video technology. As was the case in the 2008 Summer Games, the site will be prominently featured on the MSN portal, providing a huge traffic funnel.

While NBC has the exclusive rights to stream the games, the major sports sites on the Web also plan extensive coverage. Yahoo Sports will host an official Olympics microsite featuring stories on participating athletes and countries. The site will also produce a daily video series — Yahoo Sports Olympic Minute — and will again publish its Fourth Place Blog, which yielded one of the more popular stories to come out of the Beijing games: why Olympic divers shower after each dive.

ESPN.com is also planning major coverage of the games. The site is sending reporters armed with FlipCams, with an eye toward producing original video segments each day. Plus, ESPN.com will provide fans with the usual video highlights, photos and commentary via a 2010 Vancouver blog. In addition, ESPN’s mobile site and its ScoreCenter mobile app will each carry a Medal Tracker tool during the games’ duration. –Anthony Crupi and Mike Shields

See also: “DOOH’s Olympic Shot”