By Jen Marley

We’ve tracked the marketing successes and failures of Olympics campaigns for many years on behalf of our clients. More Canadians watch the Olympics than any other sport. And the winter Olympics especially are beloved by Canadians. But is this changing? Have Canadians had enough? Are they getting tired of hearing about the Olympics now that the cycle has converted to every two years?

Let’s consider two major signs of wear out.

  1. Cheaters DO prosper: Russia cheated. Everyone knows it. The IOC concluded that there was evidence of state-sponsored Russian doping at their home Games in 2014. Everyone was surprised and impressed when Team Russia was sanctioned and not allowed to compete in 2018. Additionally, forty-three Russians were banned for life from the Olympics. But then, on Feb 1st 2018, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) overturned the suspensions of 28 of these athletes, and the IOC still invited 169 Russians to compete as independent athletes in PyeongChang. It’s confusing and feels unfair. And let’s not get started on the skating judges.
  2. Less Advertising: My colleagues have mentioned that they have seen less advertising this year. Though Sport Chek was noted for its subway takeover and strong message of #WhatItTakes as you see in the commercial below, but other than that, everyone else has seemed quieter in the run up to the games. Team Canada launched a very bold “be virtuous, be victorious, be Canadian, be Olympic” campaign which you can watch on YouTube. We applaud this in the wake of all the cheaters. But the ad itself is artsy, too artsy for most Canadians in our opinion.

So how can brands compete with consumer wear out? By focusing on the emotional stories. Canadians love emotional stories, especially when they fall into any of the following themes.

  • The Underdog: The Jamaican Bobsled team included members who had never walked on ice until three days before entering the 1988 Calgary Olympics. Eddie the Eagle, another 1988 competitor, was the first competitor in sixty years to represent Great Britain in Olympic ski jumping. Neither won medals but they both won our hearts.  This year, Nigeria has a bobsleigh team too. 
  • Canadian Pride: Mark Tewksbury, your moment of watching Penny Oleksiak win gold is still an all-time highlight. Watch her teammates jump for joy in this video.
  • Global Unity: North and South Korea are again competing as a single team. As much as we’re rooting for the Canadian women’s hockey team, we can’t help but also root for the Korean women’s hockey And not just because they have a Canadian coach.
  • Canadian Values: Canadian Tire, you’ve always demonstrated diversity and teamwork so well in your #WeAllPlayForCanada ads. This is who we are and who we want to be known as. Share in the pride on Twitter or YouTube.
  • Sport Mastery and what it takes to get there: Mikael Kingsbury, after all the successes you’ve collected over the years, we want you to top it off your world cup wins with mogul gold.
  • Finally Achieving the Ultimate Victory: We are rooting for you, Patrick Chan! With multiple world championships and an Olympic silver medal in hand, we want to see you shine with the ultimate achievement, the Olympic gold.
  • Overcoming Challenges: (maybe at the top of the list) Mark McMorris, no one epitomizes this more than you do. We hope you win gold. But even more, we hope that you stay safe, and that your years of sacrifice are worth it. We will love you no matter what happens.

How can marketers overcome Olympic fatigue? Our research has shown that finding a genuine way to link your brand purpose to these kinds of emotional stories can enable your brand to connect with your audience. This example showcases a partnership between RBC Avion and Mark McMorris, our Olympic snowboarder, in which he shares personal stories of his love for being (an Avion) traveler. It creates an emotional and real connection between an admired Canadian and a Canadian brand.

Marketers can focus specifically on the types of stories we mentioned earlier, as in these examples.

  • Overcoming Challenges: Toyota salutes Lauren Woolstencroft, eight-time gold medal winning Canadian Paralympian, in their commercial airing during SuperBowl 2018. Her use of prosthetic limbs gave her freedom to move and achieve the impossible…a nice link to Toyota.
  • Canadian Pride: Nike’s latest ad campaign plays off the Canadian reputation of being nice and polite. It also shows off our fiercely competitive side when it comes to sport.
  • Canadian Values: P&G’s campaign called ‘Thank You, Mom’ demonstrates a #LoveOverBias theme, and all the sacrifices and pain parents go through to help their kids become their best selves.

I am excited to watch and cheer for our Canadian Olympians and all of the other deserving athletes who’ve given up so much to be where they are.

Good luck to all of you. We hope you win gold for your brands too.