The Olympics have been a golden opportunity for many advertisers. Very few programs will convince 8.6 million people to sit in front of their televisions all at once, the way the men’s Olympics semi-final hockey match did. High-profile sports broadcasts are prized for encouraging live viewing that makes it more likely people will sit through commercials. They are also great fodder for live conversations on social media such as Twitter.
The emotional stories, thrilling comebacks, and heartwarming moments translate into the kind of audience goodwill that advertisers hope for. Here’s a look at some of the winners of these Games, and those that don’t quite deserve a medal.
Winner: Labatt Breweries of Canada
The Budweiser brand has taken a great deal of pleasure in being a royal pain in the can to rival Molson Canadian. Lost the fight to hang on to the National Hockey League sponsorship? No problem, just make the most memorable hockey-themed ad of 2012. Did your rival pay millions for a Canadian Olympic Committee sponsorship? Why, you can always build a 70-foot blimp shaped like a goal light and light it up every time Team Canada scores.
While Labatt has published the requisite disclaimers saying it is not a sponsor, the COC has cried foul, and so has Molson. Labatt’s response was sanguine: it kept promoting the blimp openly -- and stealing Olympic buzz.
Fighting for a place on the podium: Molson Coors Brewing Co.
With its biggest rival muddying the sponsorship waters, you’d think Molson would have lost its Olympic mojo. Not so.
Last year, Molson Canadian snagged attention with a video showing a beer fridge that could only be opened by scanning a Canadian passport. Molson brought the fridge to Sochi and has won plenty of free publicity as a result. It has also recorded some of Canada’s most beloved athletes celebrating with its suds.
Still, there have been some missteps. Molson tried to attack Bud for cheering on Canada while the company also sponsors the U.S. Olympic Committee. But an online post suggesting that the Budweiser blimp might “get in [Team USA’s] head” only served to draw more attention to the Budweiser campaign, and suggest it was doing exactly what every Canadian hockey fan was hoping for: throwing the Americans off their game.
Out of contention: BMW Canada
Does anyone even remember that BMW was associated with the Games at all? Does an ad featuring athletes whizzing by on skates and bobsleds with psychedelic blue trails behind them even mean anything? Is another generic glamor-shot of a car whizzing down a nighttime street the advertising equivalent of white noise?
BMW Canada has produced some truly spectactular ads in recent years -- featuring thrilling stunts that showcase the cars’ speed and performance. It’s a shame that the forgettable Olympic campaign has been a victim of its own high expectations.
Loser: Ontario Ministry of Tourism
Ontario chose to recycle a years-old commercial featuring a saccharine song for the Olympic Games. The province has produced such musical powerhouses as The Weeknd, Broken Social Scene, and rapper/walking Toronto advertisement Drake. Still, shining the spotlight on little-known musicians is not a horrible idea. But why ask them to belt out an execrable tune with the overwrought gusto of American Idol contestants? And why bother even including a rapper if you’re just going to force him to shout such implausible lines as, “I’m in Ontario, y’all”?
Pair all this with bland shots of roadside fruit stands and antiquing, and you have all the appeal of a Toronto waterfront boardwalk in winter. When Newfoundland and Labrador is churning out hauntingly beautiful mini-films that inspire imitation, the bar is now higher for other tourism boards and their marketing strategies.
Editor's note: An earlier online version of this article gave incorrect viewership data for a Canadian men's Olympic hockey match. This version has been corrected.