Winter Olympics Preview: 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.