The Olympics Games 2020 – a content marketing marathon

Ben Webb Blog
Jul 27 2020

Ready. Set. Market. You may not have heard it but on July 23, exactly one year before the start of the postponed 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, the pistol was fired to start one of the world’s top marketing races. It may be a seriously false start caused by the COVID19-based lockdown, but the quest for communications gold will perhaps be keener than ever.

A sprint has turned into a marathon. Marketing teams had been tucked away in their training camps, dreaming up performance-boosting plans, waiting to reveal their world-beating prowess. Favourites like Coke, Nike and Adidas had already launched products and big-budget campaigns. 

Advertisers in the US had already ploughed a record $1.25bn into commercials on NBCUniversal, the Olympics TV rights holder, with 10% of the spots still available. Everyone was ready for action when a nasty one-celled organism destroyed the best-laid plans. Everyone – athletes and marketers alike – has had to amend their strategy. 

No one wants to miss a rare opportunity to reach a global audience and in the post lock-down world, the major brands will want to make sure they maximize the return on their massive investments. Being a top sponsor like Airbnb, Toyota, Bridgestone, P&G, Alibaba, Visa and Coke does not come cheap – the base price for a four-year cycle is an estimated $200 million.

So it will be very interesting to see what campaign themes emerge in the year ahead as they fight each other to be first to the finishing line. So far the competitive edge is distinctly lacking. Every piece of content seems to be yearning to deliver honest and emotional authenticity. 

An early lead?

Airbnb blasted out of the blocks with a five-day summer festival of so-called “Olympian and Paralympian Online Experiences”, which are hosted virtually by some of the world’s best athletes. Launched in conjunction with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), they are engaging events that sum up the ethos of the games and the personality and expertise of the athletes. 

US Olympic 200m gold medallist Allyson Felix, for example, talks about motherhood and returning to the big time. Meanwhile British triathlete Jonny Brownlee – he’s the one who was carried over the line by his brother – takes us on a scenic training ride. 

It’s all very touchy-feely.“Guests will be able to connect and interact with some of the most elite competitors within the Olympic and Paralympic Movement, giving them even more reasons to cheer them on next year,” explains Airbnb co-founder Joe Gebbia. ”Airbnb is proud to host the summer festival, which is a new way to experience the Olympic and Paralympic spirit.”

Hmmm, perhaps. But not the competitive spirit. What about the sheer grit and determination – and the mean, white-hot, vein-bursting, body-punishing edge – needed to actually win the gold medal? And to stand victorious atop the podium. To make history. To hear your national anthem – tears optional – in front of a billion goggling viewers…

Oh no. Not more emotional intelligence …. 

And just as the new boys (relatively) Airbnb started to show their good side, the hard-bitten big-boy sponsors decided to muscle in too. With a digital video series entitled ‘The Measure of Greatness’, P&G is highlighting the stories of athletes around the world, who are helping to “serve their communities” in 2020.

“As part of this new journey to Tokyo, we know that the one year to go moment will take on a new meaning for athletes, their families and fans alike,” says Marc Pritchard, P&G’s chief brand officer. “We are honoured to elevate the stories of Olympic and Paralympic athletes and hopefuls who have stepped up to lead their communities in 2020 – not through athletic performances, but through their compassion, their humanity, and their love.”

Yes, he actually said “love”. In the year-long build-up to the games, in other words, it seems that winning hearts and minds is more important than winning medals. An odd fantasy comes to mind. It’s bonus time at the end-of-year appraisals at P&G and the lovely HR executive declares they are not interested in sales. Not at all. Just the love. 

And not to be outshone in the caring sharing-department Toyota is presenting a series called ‘What Moves Me’ that gives an insight into the lives of Olympic athletes and how they are coping with the uncertainty of these times and of the challenges faced as they refocus.

In the first episode US Olympic gold medallist diver David Boudia describes his struggle competing at the elite level and how the disappointment at the Beijing Games left him with depression and suicidal thoughts as he lost his sense of purpose. Boudia says the key to his success is not to focus on the result, but to value the journey and enjoy life to its fullest potential by finding a balance.

Even Ed Laukes, group vice president of Toyota Marketing, Toyota Motor North America, is becoming sentimental. “We’re happy to partner with Olympic Channel yet again to share inspirational stories from our Global Team Toyota Athletes,” he says. “Each athlete’s path to success is unique and we applaud them for sharing their emotional bravery.”

Ok, I’ll admit it. The content is fascinating. Fresh, engaging and sometimes moving, it’s a rare chance to see sportsmen and women as human beings rather than the carefully curated and plastic PR avatars their controlling sponsors usually allow us to observe.

As we build-up to the Tokyo games in the year ahead all the personality-driven content can only pay dividends as we acquire a clearer understanding of the intense pressure the athletes face as they prepare for the Olympic start line. When the pistol sounds, hopefully, the real winner-takes-all competition will begin…

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