Winter Olympics: Sponsors look to gain an edge from Games’ ‘cooler cousin’

The Winter Olympics is often overshadowed by its Summer counterpart, but there’s a definite buzz coming out of Pyeongchang 2018 as brands use the global event to tap into a ‘younger, trendier’ demographic.

Winter Olympics

From Rio de Janeiro’s Copacabana beach to the snow-capped mountains of Pyeongchang, the Summer and Winter Olympics might seem worlds apart but there’s one thing they have in common: they both present a big opportunity for advertisers.

As we countdown to the opening ceremony of the 2018 Winter Olympics tonight (9 February), there’s no denying the growing excitement as athletes such as Elise Christie in speed skating, skier Dave Ryding and skeleton racer Lizzy Yarnold battle it out with the world’s best.

Team GB is targeting a record medal haul at the event. Last time around, in Sochi in Russia, the team equalled its best ever games with four medals. And the hope is the team can go one further this time around.

READ MORE: Why brands must rethink their approach to women’s sports sponsorship

Yet it’s clear the proposition around the Winter Olympics is different to its Summer cousin’s. A much smaller group of countries take part and there are fewer sports and events.

That means the Winter Olympics don’t tend to attract big global campaigns either; instead offering an exclusive platform for sponsors to hone in on a different audience.

The opportunity to target the ‘trendy’ youth

As with the Summer Games, the Winter Olympics have tight controls over commercial partnerships, meaning brands that don’t directly sponsor the event will struggle to get noticed. That means, says Joanne Warnes, chief operating officer at Cake, Havas’s sport and entertainment agency, that brands have to think harder about what they want to achieve because they don’t have the security blanket of media eyeballs as a return on investment metric.

“You can argue the Olympics is not a sport sponsorship in the traditional sense, and that brands seek to associate themselves with more universal themes, such as corporate and national pride, or the celebration of human endeavour,” she says.

Yet the Winter Olympics offers an opportunity to reach a different target market. The average viewer tends to be aged 50 or older, but with the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) inclusion of newer “funkier” sports such as snowboard cross and slopestyle at Pyeongchang, it’s now being positioned as “the cooler cousin” of the summer event.

Warnes says many sponsors will look to “catch that mood” by using Pyeongchang to showcase tech, mobile and data-led innovation.

Sports sponsorship consultant Nigel Currie echoes Warnes comments, noting that the Winter Olympics offers the top 13 Olympic partners, including Coca-Cola, Procter & Gamble and Samsung, an avenue to develop support programmes around another global sporting occasion through different events and locations.

“The Winter Olympics, while still maintaining the highest sports standards, probably contains greater elements of ‘fun’ and certainly contain a higher ‘risk’ factor than many of the sports in the Summer Games,” he says.

Going forward, Currie predicts the IOC will start to use the Winter Olympics to attract younger, more fashionable brands.

The Olympic Games are an event that brings the world together, despite differences. That’s one of the reasons we support the Olympic Movement, as a way to bring people together and to inspire inclusion and mutual understanding.

Procter & Gamble

However, he adds that if the governing body wants to modernise the Games by keeping it “meaningful” and “interesting” for the 14 to 24 age group it should reconsider its entry fees, which are currently edging younger brands out of the Games.

“The existing Olympic sponsors have become very good at using the Olympics and their association with it to maximise their returns [and] because of this, it will be hard for new, young brands to get entry,” Currie says.

“But the Winter Olympics is better placed to do this than the Summer Games. If, for example, a unique and exclusive platform could be developed for social media, it would be very attractive and there are other product category ‘gaps’ that will be filled in the next round of negotiations.”

South Korea itself also offers new opportunities for brands. The games in Sochi were rife with political issues, while allegations of cronyism and corruption almost overshadowed the event, as did concerns over the treatment of the LGBTQ+ community in the country.

South Korea, on the other hand, is considered more “attractive” to the rest of the world, because it presents top sponsors with extensive options. And it even seems to have cooled growing tensions between North and South Korea, with the two countries set to march at the opening ceremony under one flag and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s sister set to attend.

“The very fact that the Games seems to have found a way of uniting North and South Korea is in itself a notable achievement,” adds Currie.

Brands celebrate unity and Olympic endeavour

Consumer goods giant P&G, says it still views any Olympic event as a global opportunity and one which can unite people by celebrating human endeavour.

“The Olympic Games are an event that brings the world together, despite differences. That’s one of the reasons we support the Olympic Movement, as a way to bring people together and to inspire inclusion and mutual understanding,” a P&G spokesperson tells Marketing Week.

“We can, and strive to, use our voice to be a force for good and shine a light on the bias that limits human potential.”

P&G is using its Olympic campaigns to draw attention to gender and racial bias through its Always’s ‘Like a Girl’ and ‘We See Equal’ campaigns.

Alibaba, meanwhile, has marked its new partnership with the Olympics with the launch of its maiden brand campaign. The Chinese ecommerce business is aiming to use its sponsorship to not only “digitally transform” the Games, but also expand its international footprint and secure its position as a global player.

READ MORE: Alibaba kicks off Olympics sponsorship with first global brand campaign

And Coca-Cola, which has been a sponsor of the Games since 1928 making it the longest standing IOC partner, has unveiled an extensive sponsorship campaign that features South Korean figure skater Yuna Kim.

The opportunities with Team GB

Beyond direct sponsorship of the Games themselves, there are also growing opportunities to back Team GB. Aldi, which became a Team GB partner ahead of the 2016 Summer Olympics , has launched a campaign illustrating the “adventurous spirit” of the Winter Olympics by showing Brits going about their daily business – including a granny on a mobility scooter.

Toyota also recently announced an eight-year partnership with Team GB, which will extend through the Tokyo Olympics in summer 2020, the Beijing 2022 Winter Games and Paris 2024 Summer Games. It is aiming to use its role as the Olympics’ ‘worldwide mobility partner’ to “inspire the world to move” and it will be launching idents for the Games’ coverage on both Eurosport and Channel 4, alongside TV, print and digital.

Andrew Cullis, Toyota GB marketing director, says: “Toyota wants to make sustainable mobility accessible for everyone, regardless of age or physical ability. This mission to deliver ever-better mobility for all is at the heart of our brand and resonates with the way in which athletes can inspire people to go further and realise their dreams.”

Visa, meanwhile, has partnered with Team GB to launch its official app. It provides fans with all the latest news and medal standings, as well as opportunities to interact with the Games via trivia challenges, audience polls and voting elements.

Record ad spend expected

Beyond official sponsors, there is also the opportunity to advertise around the broadcast events in markets such as the US. While the main Winter Olympics will be on the BBC in the UK, the Paralympic Winter Games will be on Channel 4. And Kantar Media expects ad spend to surpass the record breaking $977m spent at Sochi 2014.

That comes in part from viewers being given more access than ever before. For example, in the US, NBC is set to air more than 625 hours of Olympic programming and 1,800 hours of live-streamed content.

The Olympics, whether in winter or summer, still offer an opportunity to reach a large, high quality, engaged audience across multiple screens in a brand-safe environment.

Jon Swallen, Kantar Media

The broadcaster has teamed up with Snapchat in the US to offer a live stream of segments from the Games, while users will also be able to receive notifications when key events are about to kick off. There will also be a curated ‘Our Stories’ feed from athletes in the Olympic Village.

And while the Winter Olympics might have a narrower audience appeal than events such as the Super Bowl and FIFA World Cup, it is still an attractive proposition for advertisers.

READ MORE: Super Bowl 2018 – The advertising winners and losers

“The Olympics, whether in winter or summer, still offer an opportunity to reach a large, high quality, engaged audience across multiple screens in a brand-safe environment,” Jon Swallen, chief research officer at Kantar Media, says.

“There’s a limited pool of premier properties with these attributes and the scarcity has made them even more valuable to marketers. The Winter Olympics is benefiting from this phenomenon.”