Matthew Keegan
May 23, 2024

How brands are going for gold at the Paris Olympics

Campaign explores how Asian brands are maximising ad spend at the mega sporting event, the keys to a winning marketing strategy, and the best platforms to engage young fans.

How brands are going for gold at the Paris Olympics

It's set to be the sporting event of the summer, if not the year. The Paris 2024 Olympics Games is just weeks away from welcoming 15 million visitors to the French capital, with an estimated one billion people watching the competitions live on TV.

Preparations for the Games are nearing their final stages. A 95-foot-long and 49-foot-high set of Olympic rings, made entirely of recycled French steel, will soon be displayed on the south side of the iconic Eiffel Tower. The opening ceremony in July in front of 500,000 spectators, will feature athletes from 203 invited nations sailing down the Seine River in boats. 

A total of 329 events will be contested in 32 sports, including four newcomers: surfing (in faraway Tahiti), sport climbing, breaking, and skateboarding. With a budget of €8.8 billion (about $9.57 billion), it's set to be one of the biggest summer Games the world has seen. 

"Paris 2024 is the first Olympics since 2016 where stadiums will be full and has already secured more than €1 billion in sponsorship revenue," says Shane O’Sullivan, managing director, Prism Sport & Entertainment, a division of VML. "We expect to see the Olympic brand back at full force."

As expected, there has been a swell of French companies partnering, including LVMH, Carrefour, and Accor, alongside top-tier worldwide partners such as Airbnb, Intel, and Coca-Cola.

"Whether or not we see a record number of brand activations is up in the air," adds O'Sullivan. "But there’s no doubt there will be a huge number of campaigns going live—many of which are already launching to provide long lead times to the Games this summer."

A golden opportunity for brands

There's no doubt that the Olympic Games provide an unparalleled global marketing platform—allowing companies to associate with one of the most recognised brands in the world. 

Benjamin Seeley, the IOC’s head of marketing communications, told Campaign that this year they are working with their sponsorship partners to break new ground in terms of the types of activations and innovative ways to reach audiences. 

"As a sponsorship proposition, the Olympics offers more than simple 'brand visibility', but an authentic integration of a brand's products and solutions," says Seeley. "This provides a meaningful demonstration of their abilities on a global stage, under global scrutiny."

However, there are only a select number of brands that can fully activate the Olympics globally—what’s called the Top Partners (TOP) programme.

"The exclusivity in this category avoids clutter and helps brands have a clear engagement with their target audiences," says Seeley. 

Among the IOC's top partners is Alibaba. The Chinese tech giant became a worldwide partner in 2017 and will remain a top-tier sponsor until 2028. For Paris 2024, Alibaba plans to use cloud-based AI to breathe new life into historical moments of the Games and reshape broadcasting. 

"Alibaba is leveraging deep learning models to restore and colorise photos and videos dating back to the 1924 Summer Olympics, known as 'Paris 1924’," says Chris Tung, president of strategic development, Alibaba Group. "Our cloud-based AI model helped enhance the quality of the ancient Olympic images and videos, giving audience access to witness a century of Olympic history through the lens of AI innovation."

Meanwhile, Alibaba has also recently released official Paris 2024 branded products for Chinese fans on Tmall’s Olympic store. The launch of the official products on Tmall, Alibaba’s B2C marketplace, came on the same day that Paris 2024 celebrated 100 days to go until the start of this year’s Games. 

Paris 2024 official branded products are available on the Olympic Store on Alibaba Group’s B2C marketplace Tmall.
"Chinese fans will now be able to show their excitement for the countdown to the opening ceremony with a range of licensed merchandise, including plush toys of the Phryges, the official mascots of Paris 2024, figurines of the mascots alongside the iconic Eiffel Tower, and a series of commemorative Olympic-themed silver coins," says Tung. "This is only a start and more activations will be carried out and shared in the coming months and during Paris 2024.” 
Samsung, also a long standing Olympic partner, has activated in the lead up to the Games by opening an innovative brand showcase in the French capital. Located on the iconic Avenue des Champs-Élysées, the activation allows visitors to experience Samsung’s mobile technology, learn about its Olympic partnership and engage in a variety of interactive activities related to the Olympic Games.
Samsung has opened an Olympic showcase in the heart of Paris.
Beyond top-tier Olympic partners like Alibaba and Samsung, there is a flurry of marketing activity and Games promotion, both by local and international brands, as well as media rights holdersit has started early and on a considerable scale.
"For emerging Asian nations, the Olympics continue to serve as a crucial vehicle for announcing their arrival on the world stage," says Arvind Srivastava, chief strategy officer at Ogilvy APAC. "Our teams are working closely with a number of brands in the lead-up to the Olympics. Brands spanning diverse sectors, from beverage to auto, have thrown their weight behind the event, with international names planning APAC-oriented activations, particularly in the Chinese and Indian markets."
In Australia, NRMA Insurance has seen the opportunity to be part of the most connected games ever produced. They have taken the step to maximise their media investment and become a broadcast games partner with Channel 9.
"Not being summer in the southern hemisphere, long and cold nights will be prime for staying in and viewing the Games," says Ali Coysh, head of strategy, Initiative. "With a less favourable time zone, the full focus is on coverage across every touch point, maximising all those catch-up eyeballs from the action overnight. In Australia, we can’t be reliant on linear moments, meaning extensions like catch-up, social and news all play into the 2024 Olympic experience. For NRMA Insurance, we want to be there whenever and however people choose to consume the Games."
Creating a winning marketing strategy
Since the Tokyo Olympics, lots has changed in the global media landscape. People are no longer locked down at home in front of their TV set. In fact, digital media is getting more eyes than ever before, making it harder than ever for brands to get attention. Not only that, the Olympics will be awash with logos competing for attention. What will be the key to cutting through?
Carl Sarney, head of strategy at TRA, says there are three main strategies for a brand to come out on top.
Firstly, if you’ve got deep pockets, be the brand with the biggest presence and buy out as much space as you can afford to. Secondly, start the biggest conversation and be the brand that does something so remarkably unexpected yet totally relevant to an issue everyone will be talking about anyway. This meas joining the conversation in an entertaining way that gets people talking about your brand. Or thirdly, think laterally; how can your brand sneak onto the screen and into the conversation unofficially but with a big impact?
"Remember the London 2012 Olympics when Beats by Dre gave free, yet unmistakably branded headphones to all sorts of high-profile athletes who were subsequently seen wearing them in their warmups," says Sarney. "IOC has strict rules to try and protect sponsorship rights, but as Beats never paid the athletes to wear their eye-catching gear, they narrowly skirted the rules."
Marketers can also think laterally about where global audiences are likely to be, what they’ll be doing and what they’ll be needing such as stocking up on snacks at the supermarket, Googling Olympic facts and stats, needing reminders of when to wake up to see their favourite athletes compete. Thinking about how your brand can pop up in a surprisingly useful on-brand way in these moments is what Sarney recommends. 
Above all, brands must avoid sportswashing (the practice of using sports to improve reputations tarnished by wrongdoing).
"It’s essential that brands talking about sport genuinely do provide support," says Hilary Badger, executive creative director at Ogilvy Melbourne. "Brands might choose to consider the ecosystem around sportnot just the athletes, say, but the volunteers who make it all possible. And the Olympics is always a catalyst for young wannabee athletes to pick up a discus or pair of soccer boots. So, brands that enable grassroots participation across all ages and abilities will always win in my eyes."
What are the best platforms?
The Olympic Games enjoys one of the biggest audiences globally across all media platforms. The Olympics, both in general and specifically for Asia, faces the challenge of remaining relevant to a new generation that has shifted from TV screens to handheld devices. 
"To engage this audience, campaigns must speak their language and connect with them on platforms they frequent," says Srivastava. "Massive billboards have to give way to scrollable 'billboards' on Instagram, WeChat, and Weibo. Athletes and celebrities will leverage their own social channels to foster more personal relationships with brands. Even 60-second old-world anthems must evolve to reflect the rhythms and beats of Douyin, TikTok, and Reels."
Following the IOC’s relaxation of marketing restrictions, athletes now have greater freedoms to share previously restricted content. 
"We saw this start in Tokyo with athletes providing new levels of content from previously unseen areas of the Games, such as the Olympic and Paralympic Village or how they support their teammates as fans," says O'Sullivan. "In Paris, we expect to see greater direct athlete-to-fan interaction and partnerships such as TikTok, which will provide new opportunities for greater insight and access to athletes than before."
Paris 2024 looks set to be interesting as it will likely be the most disparate coverage of content, from traditional linear TV to BVOD, radio to podcasts, print and even OOH covering the experience. 
"The main thing for any brand seeking to gain attention during the games is to take an additive approach," says Sarney. "How can your brand add to the Olympic spirit, add to the conversations people are having? If a brand is seen to be adding something of value to the event, it’s much more likely to enjoy a reciprocal effect of adding to their brand strength and sales."
Campaign Asia

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