There are very few calendrical markers that unite the entire world – or at least unite in delight, competition, and celebration. Granted, the US elections have the same pull, but being united in fear is a bit passé right now. The enduring magic of the Olympics is that it is possibly the only international event that enraptures the whole world to such an extent, and for two weeks no less, which in an age of vines and reduced attention spans is quite astonishing. The power of the Olympic pull is varied, and though its sentiment has evolved over the last five centuries, the crux of it remains more or less the same – just on the scale of nations.
The Olympics is simultaneously a metaphor for the Western capitalistic mode of the individual Rand-ian perseverance-and-panache-will-prevail, while concurrently speaking to a communistic and Eastern mode of collective output reaping the greatest rewards – take the relay for example. Whereas the US elections just make you wonder if Siberia will be rendered too hot for your August hols under the new president, the games speak to mankind’s greater purpose. It also harks to our most pre-historic and base desires; who is most likely to out-run the lion and bring the antelope home or breed some evolutionarily stonking kiddies? If you’ve moved beyond that, good for you. The fact that everyone has a team to cheer, like it or not post-Brexit, is also a big appeal.
From a marketing perspective, the Olympic games is an absolute trove of opportunities: the whole world watching; infinite stadium walls to canvas, constant prime time television, endless social media commentary, virile and attractive superheroes by the spade-load who will wear your T-shirt for the right price, and every demographic imaginable at your disposal. We’ve rounded up some key Olympic highlights, trends, hashtags, adaptive campaigns, brands poised to win big, and some blinding faux pas. Now, there are no excuses if you flop at Paris – you’ve had due warning.
In Bronze – Nike with ‘Best Day Ever’
Ahead of the Olympics, Nike disseminated the latest chapter of their Play New campaign, depicting a world where anything in sport is achievable.
Featuring the athlete Sha’Carri Richardson, who received wide scale coverage after she was issued a month’s suspension having tested positive for marijuana, the ad harks to redemptive, optimistic futures and encourages the young to never give up.
Though it can be stiflingly saccharine and a little disingenuous, the ad does tap into the spirit of the Olympics in a wider sense, and in so doing bolsters Nike’s image in that it transcends the sporting paraphernalia (notably light on product placement) as if it has only been a by-product of Nike’s greater purpose all along. For making marketing seem wholesome, we welcome you to the podium, Nike.
In Silver – Birds Eye with ‘Proud to Power Team GB’
This is by no means a fantastic ad in itself – with low-production value, tepid special effects, and a hackneyed narrative – it’s utterly unremarkable. Why then, you may reasonably ponder, has it made the podium? What Birds Eye have done here is unwittingly conjure the spirit of the Olympics through their mediocrity – whatever you have in the arsenal, you can try, and you can succeed. The campaign itself, promoting a green cuisine range, highlights the power of imitation in advertising. Birds Eye is welterweight at best, but by adopting the strategy that Quorn did four years ago, using Mo Farrah as a spokesperson (a vocal vegetarian), Birds Eye has adopted Olympic athlete Laviai Nielsen – seen excelling in her sport, powered by meat-free burger patties. It’s stuck to a well-established paradigm, and not tried to be daring or new, and in doing so has delivered a solid ad that does what it says on the biodegradable packaging.
In Gold – The International Olympics Committee (IOC) with ‘What Agnes Saw’
The IOC is currently showcasing a series called ‘stronger together’, with ‘What Agnes Saw’ being the latest instalment. The digital campaign, featuring the oldest living Olympian, Agnes Keleti, and the youngest ever, Skateboarding prodigy Sky Brown, is truly exceptional.
By book-ending a century between Agnes and Sky, the IOC has filled the chasm in-between with historical landmarks in social change (female athletes, mothers, the descendants of slaves, and more) that optimistically conclude on Sky who looks to the next century of change and the overwhelming number of things that it could hold. The gynocentric perspective is here used as a fulcrum to pivot towards a celebrating of the underdog, and by doing so highlights the margins of the athletic community in such a way that it appears to make up the majority. An intelligent, considered, and genuinely poignant campaign.
Trends, Hashtags, and political statements emerging from Tokyo 2021
Tom Daley and his knitting needles will no doubt be the next crafty trend to take-off. Having knitted an Olympic cardie while poolside, Tom Daley’s Instagram account has already amassed 1.4 million followers. His rather charming, crocheted medal pouch can be viewed here.
#wishitwasawhopper is a great piece of advertising by Burger King, who may well have the best burgers and PR team of any fast food chain. The hashtag comically draws on Olympians biting their gold medals, and encourages audience participation with the promise of a free Whopper if you upload any gold bites online with the hashtag.
The respectful political protest of crossed arms is a new symbol of strength to stem from the Olympics. When 25-year-old Raven Saunders, a black and openly gay American won silver in the Shot put, she crossed her arms on the podium in a gesture that represented ‘the intersection of where all people who are oppressed meet’.
Politics and Social Change
With one in six Gen Z adults identifying as LGBTQIA+, it truly is time the world stepped up and accommodated the new generation. When Olympic skateboarder Alana Smith was repeatedly mis-gendered despite having ‘they/them’ inscribed on the deck of their board, it was picked up by social media and called out.
When looking at the gendered and queer landscape of the Olympics, it’s not a particularly inspiring sight. Though the progress is unquestionably cause for celebration, it’s very far from where it should be, and maybe it’s time to question the working politics of your team or business and make sure it’s where it ought to be.
Une bonne journée a toi, and see you in Paris.