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Going for Olympic (Advertising) Gold

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On the heels of the Super Bowl comes another win for advertising with the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. Whether people are setting their alarms to watch the events live or avoiding all spoilers until the primetime rebroadcasts, the Olympics are traditionally one of the most watched television events. The Olympics dominated the Nielsen top 10 rankings for the week of February 3rd, capturing the top 4 spots with the February 7th Opening Ceremony taking first place with 31.69 million viewers. The Sunday Prime Time, Saturday Prime Time, and Thursday Prime Time broadcasts completed the top 4 (1). With such viewership it is no wonder that NBC Universal announced in September 2013 that it had sold a record setting $800 million in advertising to a list of sponsors including Coca-Cola, Procter & Gamble, McDonald's, Visa, AT&T, General Motors, BMW, Citibank, Kellogg's, General Electric, Liberty Mutual and BP (2).

Hitting at the Heart

Whereas Super Bowl ads mainly seek to entertain and generate buzz in the now expected recap of top ads on Twitter, online and around the water cooler the following Monday morning, Olympic ads focus on emotion. In a similar vein to the heartwarming news stories that unfold surrounding the athletes and their success and struggles, sponsors aim to tug the same heartstrings and may leave you reaching for the tissue box. That is certainly the case with Proctor & Gamble’s Thank You Mom ads that first debuted in the 2012 London Summer Olympics. The new spot for Sochi features moms helping their kids through the bumps, bruises and falls of figure skating, snowboarding, ice hockey and skiing through the years until they are watching them compete in the Winter Games. You can watch it on P&G’s YouTube channel here (1), but don’t say I didn’t warn you about needing tissues. P&G, which is a parent company to brands such as Pampers, Tide and Bounty, typically has advertising focusing on these individual brands, but for the Olympics, its proud sponsor of Mom message resonates. Hi Megan

The insurance company Liberty Mutual takes a similar approach tying the struggles of Olympic athletes with the setbacks that can affect one’s everyday life in its Rise campaign. My favorite spot ties in clips of gymnast Kerri Strugg (whose vault completion while injured won the American all-around team gold in 1996) and the 1980 U.S. Men’s hockey team (in their “miracle on ice” victory over the Soviet Union) with scenes from auto accidents and natural disasters. They state that “[they] believe with every setback, there’s an opportunity to comeback and rise.” Get ready to chant “USA! USA!” and watch it on their YouTube channel here.

Why Emotion Works

The Olympics are two straight weeks of emotion—adrenaline, hope, excitement, pride, disappointment, victory—so it makes sense that sponsors and advertisers would want to capitalize on these feelings and produce emotional ads. But emotional ads are also strategic in that they encourage brand building rather than direct sales. Research shows that emotional ads are more likely to be remembered (3) and to have a positive impact on brand evaluations (4). So even though these ads may not cause you to run out and buy their product tomorrow, they are changing your feelings about the brand and how you associate yourself with the brand. These effects happen down the road when you are thinking about auto insurance or a new credit card or even what toothpaste to buy.

So keep an eye out on the commercials these last few days of the Winter Olympics and see if you start to notice any changes in your own brand perceptions.

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  3. "Friestad, M., & Thorson, E. (1986). Emotion-eliciting advertising: Effects on long-term memory and judgment. In Richard J. Lutz (Eds.), NA-Advances in Consumer Research Volume 13 (111-116). Provo, UT: Association for Consumer Research. "
  4. "Pham, M.T., Geuens, M., & De Pelsmacker, P. (2013). The influence of ad-evoked feelings on brand evaluations: Empirical generalizations from consumer responses to more than 1000 TV commercials. International Journal of Research in Marketing, 30 (4), 383-394 "
  5. ""Photo Credit
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