Nike set to ambush the Olympics

Posted on Posted in Beloved Brands in the Market


I am not the biggest fan of sponsoring the Olympics. When I was at Johnson and Johnson, we paid $100 Million to sponsor the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, just for the right to pay double the price of TV ads.  You get some good slots, but many bad slots as well. I get the idea of Super Bowl ads, with the hype and excitement and even now consumers look for the ads. But the Olympics has great viewer fatigue. We will all find ourselves watching Poland versus Brazil in Fencing at some point around day 9, with our eyes in a slight fog, before we ask ourselves “What am I doing?”. At J&J, I had Band Aid and Listerine. Trying to link those to the games or athletes always felt like a real stretch.  Good luck to P&G now. I kept thinking:  unless you are a sponsor closely connected to the sporting events, is it really worth the price? 

It should make sense for Adidas, right? What Nike did in 2008 was brilliant.  Instead of paying the huge fees to the Olympics and the insane extra cost of TV ads, they decided to ambush the Olympics. With soaring heat, 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, the Olympics created a rule change for Vancouver that no one but Olympic sponsors could have any ads within 150 miles of Vancouver.

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

So fast forward to 2012 and Nike has a new plan to ambush the London Games via Twitter.  When the Team USA men’s basketball team is playing, Nike’s Jordan brand will include spontaneous real-time comments about the game in its promoted tweets. These Twitter ads will also contain pre-planned brand content and links. Twitter use is extremely popular during sporting events. Check out the feed during any big game and you will see a continuous string of comments about what has been happening, plus many comments from various fans offering their opinion about their team, their favorite players and plays that occurred during the game. Nike is hoping this trend continues during the upcoming Summer Olympics in London with the Nike brand front and centre. “When people who are simultaneously watching sports and tweeting, see a promoted tweet about the real-time game or score, then it’s not an ad anymore, but an information tool. To identify our target, we focus on what accounts people follow on Twitter, rather than what they post. That’s because a lot more people read content on Twitter than post content.”

It will be interesting to see whether Nike will have success with this program. Or is there just such advertising clutter and confusion over sponsors that Nike would be granted relative sponsorship status without doing anything. What’s your view?

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