Companies Embrace Unifying Aspects Of Olympics As Timely Marketing Platform

olympicsAfter two years of seeing Americans divide and polarize politically into diametrically opposed camps that make them risky bets for many types of marketing, some CEOs and CMOs have welcomed the Winter Olympics as a fool-proof platform for advertising and positioning that unifies the body politic around their brands.

Ford, Toyota, Quicken Loans, SeaWorld, SunTrust and Dick’s Sporting Goods are among leading brands that have placed big marketing bets on Americans’ enthusiasm for the U.S. team, for Olympic ideals, and for NBC’s television broadcasts.

Despite early obstacles in PyeongChang, South Korea — including severely cold weather, some disappointing performances by American athletes, and the attempts by North Korean leadership to use the Games as a diplomatic wedge — CEOs and their marketing lieutenants are sticking by some huge commitments to advertising during the Olympic and subsequent Paralympic games.

“No matter what’s going on in the world and economy, it’s hard to argue about supporting Team USA,” Casey Hurbis, chief marketing officer for Detroit-based Quicken Loans, America’s largest home lender, told Chief Executive. “We see it as another big media platform.”

“CEOs and their marketing lieutenants are sticking by some huge commitments to advertising during the Olympic and subsequent Paralympic games.”

So Quicken decided to advertise with a new campaign during the Olympics telecast even though the event immediately followed another big marketing investment by Quicken, with a TV commercial during the Super Bowl broadcast on NBC on February 4.

Lew Echlin, marketing-communications manager for Ford, said that the Olympics served as a perfect platform for the advertising launches for two new vehicles, a fresh version of the Expedition three-row SUV and an all-new EcoSport compact crossover-utility vehicle. As usual, Ford had spurned advertising during the Super Bowl just a week earlier.

“Everyone wants the USA to do extremely well in the Olympics, and even with an increasingly diverse customer base, the Olympics is something that everyone is unified around and watching,” Echlin told Chief Executive.

Ford even chose a kum-bah-yah theme for its first commercial for the capable new Expedition, titled “We the People,” which depicted some of the many factors that unified Americans – such as love of sports, music and family – in the context of showing off the capabilities of a significantly overhauled vehicle.

After running a company-record three TV commercials during the Super Bowl, Toyota pivoted quickly to run a whole slate of ads during the Winter Olympics. The entire campaign promoted the company’s new global brand positioning, “Start Your Impossible,” which is introducing Toyota as an overall “mobility” company rather than one preoccupied with automotive transportation only.

Focusing on some Paralympic athletes provided a fitting word picture for some of the personal-mobility technologies that Toyota has been developing, for example.

And there’s the unifying factor, particularly poignant because of a history of some disunity between South Korea, the Games’ host, and Japan, where Toyota is headquartered.

“This is an unprecedented opportunity for our team at Toyota to share message of unity, friendship, diversity and perseverance,” said Ed Laukes, group vice president of Toyota marketing for Toyota North America, in a press release. “With the Super Bowl and the Olympics just days apart on NBC, we’re excited to join fans’ enthusiasm for these two world-class events and connect with them by sharing meaningful and inspiring TV spots.”

SunTrust used the Olympics programming to launch the next phase of marketing of its OnUp financial-confidence and –planning platform, an effort it has been building for a couple of years. The Atlanta-based financial-services giant fielded a TV ad in which a little girl found enough confidence on the Olympic ice to pull off an unlikely performance.

“The Olympics are a big stage, and consumers remember the brands that appear in the Olympics even three months after the games have ended,” Corinne Cuthsbertson, brand advertising and digital marketing executive for SunTrust, told Chief Executive. “And there’s an [average] 83-percent increase in brand memorability after the Olympics ends.”

SeaWorld chose Olympics advertising to kick off national marketing of its “Park to Planet” advertising campaign that gained kudos in regional appearances last fall, positioning the amusement-park operator as a global conservator of the oceans – and attempting to pivot from the parks’ previous focus on killer-whale shows that became controversial.

“The Olympics are inspirational because they’re unifying, and we’re using that platform because the ‘Park to Planet’ kickoff is very inspirational,” Joel Manby, CEO of Orlando-based SeaWorld, told Chief Executive. “It strikes a nerve in people who want to support companies that help make the planet better, and we purposely chose the Olympics to kick it off instead of waiting until later in the year.”

Other CEOs echoed the appeal of the globalist nature of the Games, not just an appeal to American sporting pride.

Dick’s Sporting Goods Chairman and CEO Edward W Stack, for instance, took the unusual tack of taking out a full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal on February 6 just to ask readers to “remember the power sport has to unite us as one race … the human race, living together with respect, tolerance and love.”

After casting judgment on an era in which “no one seems to have time or tolerance for anyone with an opinion differing from their own,” Stack noted that as a “proud sponsor of Team USA and a company rooted in sport,” Dick’s gets to see “humanity at its best every single day” involved in sports.

“Sport has the power to bring us together as one community, one country and one world,” Stack wrote in the ad. “Sport has always been one of the great uniters.”

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