Have advertisers missed a podium opportunity?

Bright metal starting block with blue blocks on white background.


As a 17 year old, I am considered to be in the heart of the expanding cohort of social media users. Brands have recognized this new platform for advertisement, setting up their own profiles and pages to target the online world. Yet, I think that brands tend to rely far too heavily on the fact that this new advertising opportunity exists, forgetting that just because we have twitter (and all the rest of it), there is no guarantee that we will be exposed to the self-promotion that they release onto these sites: they will have to work a little harder to gain our ‘follow’ and appear on our smartphone screens.

In my view, this has been the failing of this year’s Olympic sponsors. The Games have a range of partners this year who are sponsoring athletes and producing global advertising campaigns to promote both their product, and the Olympics themselves. Proctor and Gamble (P&G) have pushed various such campaigns, as have Samsung and Visa. Each have released lengthy television adverts, and their online presence is strong: the twitter, instagram and facebook profiles of these huge names are entirely alight with Rio-based hashtags, simpering images of elated medallists who they, by contract, have to support. So why is it that no one seems to have any idea that these companies are even part of the Games, suggesting they have failed to ‘exploit’ them in the ways they could?

P&G and all the brands that it owns have made a considerable effort to promote themselves via Rio. Gillette has released a rather dark, intense and three minute long advert with the tag line ‘Perfect isn’t Pretty’. It features various athletes suffering injury, illness and family tension all at the hands of sport, making admirable sacrifices for their discipline and showing impressive resilience. Once or twice during this excessively long video the athletes use a Gillette razor and conduct a fairly cursory shave. Despite the brand reposting this advert with gusto numerous times on their social media, I have not seen it on UK TV, or on billboards or public spaces. Also, the link between shaving and the Olympics is not well established, but translates as being rather forced: surely if ‘perfect’ is not ‘pretty’, the need for shaving in the first place is removed. All in all, the advert is weak, in more ways than one. However, twitter is where I believe P&G to be making all the right choices with regards to their Olympic campaign, even though I do not follow them myself. For one, they make use of Australian singer Sia having produced a song especially for the Gillette advert, by ‘retweeting’ one of her tweets about the collaboration. Although I do not consider celebrity involvement to necessarily make advertising more successful, seeing a familiar name in association with a campaign is effective in making that campaign more memorable. Furthermore, P&G are unique in that they ‘retweet’ the comments of normal consumers, portraying them to be an imminent and personal brand rather than some detached, inaccessible and irrelevant corporation.

Samsung is another name that I was unaware of being affiliated with the Games, despite their highly sentimental advert and use of social media. Again, this advert is more of a mini-film, around 3 minutes long, so one would imagine it to be powerful. Yet, any emotional power is completely undercut by what the advert is aiming to sell. In ‘The Chant’, we see Margret Rumat Rumat Hassan, a 19 year old 400m runner from South Sudan, preparing for the games with her whole community supporting her by chanting her name. The fact that 2016 is South Sudan’s first year in the Olympics, after gaining independence from Sudan in 2011 following a long and brutal conflict, gives the advert a definite ‘tug on the heartstrings’ factor as a story of overcoming barriers and achieving victory against all odds. At the end, when we are all appropriately moved and Margret is about to race, she removes from her ears a pair of cordless headphones through which she has been listening to her friends’ motivating chanting. This relatively superfluous product does seem to undercut the impact that this advert could have had, and the minimal coverage of this advert on TV further limits its success. Aside from TV advertising, Samsung has been tweeting almost every day, cheering on its athletes with the obstacle-defeating hashtag, ‘DoWhatYouCant’. With millions of followers on such platforms, Samsung is reaching many with their Olympic campaign, but the wider audience of TV viewers has not been fully tapped into in a similar way to Gillette.

Visa has also created a TV advert, featuring athletes from around the world making a fantastical journey across land and sea to Rio from their respective nations (using their Visa cards to fund it, of course). It showcases Brazil’s incredible landscapes, and defines the Olympics as something fun, exciting and magical. Without a doubt, this is the most successful advert. Although the link between sport and credit cards is again somewhat tedious, it is not quite so inappropriately realised as the two previously discussed, and succeeds in both of an Olympic partner’s objectives: creating enthusiasm and excitement for the product and the Games, not just for the product. But, yet again, this has hardly been on our television screens. With regards to social media, Visa has no official instagram or active facebook, yet every single tweet since the 2nd of August (3 days before the Olympic start date) has been dedicated to ‘#TeamVisa’, their 30 plus sponsored athletes. Whilst this is an effective way to get their name out there, it focuses entirely on their own athletes whilst other brands have released far more general, inclusive posts encouraging and congratulating the sporting success of all competitors, which is an off-putting and thus limiting aspect of their Olympic inspired self-promotion.

After researching these three major sponsors and their relentless attempts to drive their campaigns, I am surprised by how little knowledge I had of their connection to Rio, and thus how they have failed to achieve their two objectives as a sponsor. The fact that I do not follow any of these companies on twitter and instagram is the main reason for this disconnect, and limited followers is the main barrier to similar businesses being able to effectively use social media to sell themselves. The committed and clever online networking of companies like P&G becomes futile without followers to see it. I know very few people my age, or indeed any age, who follow brands online, unless these brands are offering useful information regarding new discount codes and special offers (in other words, unless they can personally benefit from clicking the follow button). Why would you sacrifice your precious followers to following ratio otherwise? So, social media should not be the main means of promotion to rely on for any promotionary campaigns, with this being the weakness of Gillette, Samsung and Visa. Considering the only brand I knew to be an Olympic partner (Always) was the one I had seen advertised on television and billboards, these platforms strike me as far more vital for targeting the consumer than sites like twitter. Perhaps the message here is that the best advertising techniques have not, as is the modern viewpoint, actually changed as a result of the existence of social media… at least not yet. Until brands start luring in whole nations of online followers with the promise of self-gain, the ‘old-fashioned’, back-to-basics methods of television and posters in public spaces may be the way to go for both Olympic, and small scale, advertising.