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Advertising, social media, and the Winter Olympics

Snowboarder sitting on the edge of the mountain and enjoy the winter landscape. Canillo ski region. Andorra
With the greatest sporting event on ice (and snow) now well underway, media commentators are busy trying to outdo their sporting counterparts by assessing what’s new, what’s gone, and what’s to come in terms of marketing and advertising during this highly lucrative fortnight.

Unless you’ve been flat-out avoiding the BBC recently, the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic Games won’t have passed you by. But as this feature published by Adweek in the run up to last Sunday’s Opening Ceremony goes to show, in many ways the biggest talking points for anything relating to The Rings has long-been everything aside from the events themselves.
Citing the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014, Brazil’s Summer Olympics of 2016, and this year’s Korean celebration of snow and ice sports, the article suggests that each of these show a swing away from traditional coverage as the hot topic.
Yes, there may be records being broken on the tracks and runs, but the last three Olympic extravaganzas have been respectively defined by poor facilities (#SochiProblems), political unrest and safety concerns; and the fact that North Korean athletes were to march alongside those from South Korea in the opening celebrations, under a shared flag.
A huge statement given the ongoing militaristic unease that exists between the two neighbours, this discussion replaced major worries about the Games taking place in a country that borders on an aggressive— and increasingly outwardly militaristic— regime. And now the competitions have begun there’s been as much talk about Team GB’s ‘skeleton suits’ as anything else, with some accusing the UK of breaking rules and regulations by introducing this high-tech kit to the sport.

Fuel to the fire

All of these conversations have been fuelled, if not kick-started altogether, by social media. This is therefore now a hugely important factor, which any brand— official partner to the games or not— would do well to get involved with. Using sentiment on social platforms, and making this relevant but also non-intrusive and legal, appears to be the key when it comes to getting ahead of competitors.
The Winter Olympics represents a huge opportunity for youth-oriented brand in particular. With sports such as the various snowboarding disciplines amongst the most popular in the Games, it makes sense that culturally relevant companies would be eyeing up the chance to put themselves in front of this huge audience.
The problem is only the 13 Official Partners, which are entirely mainstream and familiar to anyone who has seen any recent Olympics (Coca Cola, Visa, Omega, P&G) are allowed to even mention the Games, aside from those directly involved with specific teams (new rules have been introduced to stop repeats of the Beats headphones hijack during London 2012). Nevertheless, clever marketers can still find ways to work around the obstacle, and that doesn’t mean paying huge amounts to formally get behind one of the nations. Take a look at BrewDog’s LGBTQ-friendly Putin beer in Sochi for a great example.
It might not be too long before we start to see a change in who is ‘officially involved’, as youth-oriented or at least ‘trendy’ brands wake up to the opportunities that come with the kind of unique audience attracted by the Winter Olympics’ extreme dangers and fashion-suited make up. Meanwhile, the impending Winter Paralympics, shown on Channel 4 rather than BBC in the UK, will present yet more options for advertisers willing to fork out, with ad spend expected to top the record-breaking $977million Sochi brought in, according to Marketing Week.
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