Nike has a history of dominating the Olympics, without paying a dime to the I.O.C.

Posted on Posted in Beloved Brands in the Market


article-0-146ECD57000005DC-749_634x354I am not the biggest fan of sponsoring the Olympics. Sponsors pay a ton of cash to IOC, to have a few signs in the stadium and for the right to pay double the value of the TV ads during the games.  Sure, you get a few good slots, but many bad slots as well. Yes, if you can get your ad near the 100m dash finals or the Basketball finals, then you might get the viewership of a Super Bowl. However, the Olympics has great viewer fatigue. We will find ourselves watching Sudan versus Malta in Fencing at some point around day 9, with our eyes in a slight fog, before we ask ourselves “What am I doing?” I have always thought,  unless you are a sponsor that is closely connected to the sporting events, is it really worth the price?

Following that logic, it should make sense for Adidas, right?  Adidas has been the long term Olympic sponsor and seems like the perfect fit. However, what Nike has been doing the past few games has been brilliant. Instead of paying the huge fees to the Olympics and the insane extra cost of TV ads, they decided to ambush the Olympics. In 2008, with the soaring heat in Beijing China, they knew that consumers would seek shelter in air-conditioned malls, where Nike dominated with massive signage and murals. Adidas was nowhere to be found. Nike also sponsored Liu Xiang, one of China’s most popular Olympic athletes. Respondents said that they wanted to buy Nike because they associated Liu’s success with the type of athletic gear he uses and they want to be like him.  Sounds like the impact of Air Jordan’s in America. The ambush was so successful that in a survey of who the main sponsor for sports equipment, 50% named Adidas and 40% named Nike. On top of that, Nike’s guerrilla warfare on the games of 2008 forces the IOC to chance the rules for Vancouver, saying that no one but Olympic sponsors could have any ads within 150 miles of Vancouver. That makes me love Nike even more, and hate the IOC even more.

This is Nike TV ad, which never mentions the Olympics, but sure walks that fine line of feeling like an Olympic sponsorship ad.


So fast forward to 2012 and Nike was at it again.  When the Team USA men’s basketball team is playing, Nike’s Jordan brand was live-tweeting about the game with sporadic tweets that  contain pre-planned brand content and links. Nike also released a campaign about “London”, not just about London England but all the London’s around the world. Again, this walks a fine line in giving the impression that they are an Olympic sponsor.


Nike also won the prize for the most memorable ad of the 2012, with an amazing piece of creative that speaks to how the average person feels about running. It featured a 12-year old from London Ohio, filmed with one shot against a voice over. And yet it is extremely creative and inspiring. This is not a super human. This is what average looks like. Here’s a kid that’s 5 foot 3, 200 pounds, trying to get in shape. Not for the games of 2024, but just to get in shape. We can all relate to this kid. None of us are going to the games, but we can each push ourselves to get a bit better and find our own greatness. This is one of my favorite ads of all time.


It will be interesting to see whether Nike will have success with the Rio games. While Adidas holds the main sponsor role, Nike will outfit the US Olympic team. Do you find that there is just such advertising clutter and confusion over sponsors that Nike would be granted relative sponsorship status without doing anything?  Although social media was important during 2012, it is now arguably the most crucial platform for brands to showcase their participation. This is perfect for Nike, who is one of the most Instagrammed brands in the world, with over 50 million followers on Instagram, compared to Adidas, with under 10 million. Facebook, however, appears to level out the playing field, with both brands almost on a par in terms of “Likes”. Developing creative content for social media will go a long way in appealing to the core millennial demographic and encouraging consumer engagement. The peace is on.


What’s your view?


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