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IOC Advertisers Underwhelm with Digital Efforts in Early Goings of Olympics

With the Olympics kicking off in full swing just over a week ago, our digital marketing teams began tracking IOC sponsors’ digital campaigns beginning with the U.S. airing of the Opening Ceremonies in an effort to judge which brands did the most to amplify their message online.

While there were a few bright spots of brands putting real effort into their digital communication during the Opening Ceremonies, many seemed to have ignored some key digital channels. Here are some thoughts from our display advertising, SEO, social media, and paid search experts.

Display Advertising

One of the biggest digital opportunities brands have to amplify their TV investment during an event like the Olympics is to buy display ad space on sites relevant to the event.

For the most part, the IOC sponsors did not do a great job in this department, with two major exceptions: Procter & Gamble owned prominent placements on YouTube for the entire evening of the Opening Ceremony to showcase its subsidiary brands, and Bridgestone promoted its “See How the Best Are Built” campaign on major sports and news sites with rich media ads featuring U.S. athletes.

However, IOC sponsors’ loss was other brands’ gain, as a number of other advertisers—particularly the Team USA sponsors—took advantage of the door being left open. Ralph Lauren, designer of Team USA’s opening ceremony apparel, won impressions on Olympic-related search terms on YouTube throughout the night, and TDAmeritrade and Budweiser scooped up roadblock placements to dominate the page on sports-related websites.


On the SEO side, we expected to see cohesive campaigns with dedicated, evergreen landing pages that would be promoted in IOC sponsored commercials to enhance the audience’s experience and solidify the brand message. Across sponsors, only one reused a landing page from previous games, some ranked only for press releases, and the majority did not advertise campaign website URLs in their ads.

Panasonic, Samsung, and Visa used targeted landing pages that provided additional content to keep visitors on the site, making those brands the top organic performers for the Opening Ceremony. On the flip side, Bridgestone had a false start by advertising a website URL that could not rank organically due to a meta robots “noindex” tag.

Overall, none of the brands fully capitalized on bringing the large viewership of the Opening Ceremony to campaign websites.

Social Media

We didn’t expect to see the same level of activity as the Super Bowl, but we did expect official IOC sponsors to take advantage of their unique position and the shared experience. Given the much publicized draconian rules around even tweeting about the games, IOC sponsors effectively had an entire social conversation cordoned off to themselves.

By the time Team USA paraded out, #OpeningCeremony and #Olympics were trending high on Twitter with nearly a million mentions. And yet, the brand activity on social was little more than a whisper. Always tweeted about female athletes, tying them to its #LikeAGirl campaign.

Bridgestone and Omega both posted photos from the Opening Ceremony to Instagram and Twitter.

By and large, the IOC sponsors were passive on digital, but there are a couple of things to consider.

First, Perhaps NBC’s now-derided tape delay factored into the decision to remain quiet. (Indeed, it was possible to see a lot of the Opening Ceremony on social before it aired on NBC.)

Brands also may have simply chosen soft starts to weeks-long campaigns.

Either way, we’ll be checking in throughout the course of the games to see if IOC sponsors hit their stride in digital to back up their colossal sponsorship and media buys.

Paid Search

In order to effectively leverage paid search within an Olympic sponsorship advertisers should 1) capture search traffic from interest in their sponsorship and 2) update messaging to play off of the games. Overall, performance from IOC sponsors was underwhelming at best. These brands were the only advertisers allowed to liberally use 'Olympics' in their ads, and shockingly few updated their ads to reflect the games or their global ad campaigns at all.

Two did rise above the rest however: Procter & Gamble brands Gillette and Always. Gillette checked all the boxes by bidding on keywords such as 'Gillette Olympics,' having customized Olympics ad copy, leveraging ad extensions, and having an appropriate landing page.

Always stood out for supporting its global #LikeAGirl campaign through paid search, as it bid on “like a girl” keywords, took users directly to the video on YouTube, and included sitelinks for products on the Always site.

One thing to keep in mind is that we didn’t see ads for quite a few sponsors, which could either mean that they weren’t bidding on the queries studied or that there wasn’t paid SERP real estate available to bid on. We will continue to monitor for paid search utilization and hope that more advertisers capitalize on their unique opportunity to keep messaging current and relevant.


All in all, many IOC sponsors failed to take advantage of several digital marketing possibilities in amplifying the reach of their ad campaigns during the Opening Ceremonies. We'll continue to monitor these brands to see how digital efforts play out over the remainder of the Olympics.