Second Week In Rio: Bring In The Replacements!

As the Summer Olympics moves through its second week, look for heavyweight marketers to give some of their starting lineup a rest and bring in substitutes for a jolt of energy.

No, we’re not talking about athletes. We’re talking about TV commercials.

For advertisers with a continuous presence during the 17 day event, one of the challenges is deciding how many different commercial executions to use and how frequently to air them. Message repetition can cut both ways. It’s the foundation for achieving awareness and communication goals among a target audience. Brands who are sponsoring the Olympics will also want to get the most out of commercials featuring Olympic athletes or themes. But too much frequency, especially within a concentrated period, can irritate consumers and wear out a brand’s welcome.

The Games magnify the potential for over-exposure, whether to an individual creative execution or an entire campaign. The daily TV audience is large and the incidence of frequent, multi-day viewers is high. The roster of advertisers and their visibility is very concentrated. Through August 14th, the top 25 advertisers accounted for nearly one-half and the top 50 advertisers accounted for two-thirds of the national paid ad time during Olympics programming on nine NBCU networks.

For advertisers promoting multiple brands in the Olympics the allocation of corporate inventory across a brand portfolio often renders moot the potential for over-exposing the commercial executions of any individual brand. CPG advertisers tend to find themselves in this position. However, among more vertical advertisers such as restaurants and insurance, managing the commercial pool is a higher order issue.

To learn how major advertisers have been tackling this challenge during the Olympics, Kantar Media compiled a spot-by-spot log of every national commercial placement in Olympics TV programming from August 5th (Opening Ceremonies) through August 14th across NBC and eight sister networks. For this article, we’ve narrowed the analysis to the evening prime time coverage on NBC since this programming block accounts for such a large share of Olympics viewing and has a sizable number of multi-day viewers.

During the ten days an average Top 25 advertiser aired 15 spots and used five different ad creatives. That’s an average of three airings per creative. However, there were some interesting outliers with very high frequency for a small number of executions:

  • Chevrolet aired 24 spots during this period, an average of 2.4 per evening. Just three different commercials were used, each one highlighting awards the brand has won. Creative airings were rotated so that none appeared more than once per night. The least exposed creative appeared on 7 of 10 nights; the most exposed on 9 of 10 nights.
  • US Olympics and Paralypics sponsor BMW aired 32 spots over the ten nights with three different ad creatives accounting for 28 of the airings. One of these executions (“It’s the Ultimate One”) was shown three times in two hours on the night of August 10th.
  • Enterprise Rent-A-Car enlisted Joel McHale as a celebrity spokesperson for its Olympic campaign and aired the same :30 ad creative a total of 14 times over nine consecutive nights.
  • Subway Restaurants launched a new campaign during the Opening Ceremonies. While not a sponsor, Subway clearly leveraged Olympics themes in its ads, showing everyday people engaged in exercise activities and positioning its efforts to use fresh, locally-sourced produce as the “search for better. The single :30 creative aired nine times over eight consecutive nights before going on hiatus.

Other brands with a major, continuous presence in NBC prime time telecasts exemplify ways to keep creative rotations fresh and give consumers a reason to watch. For example:

  • Coca-Cola, a global Olympics sponsor, has been running 2-3 spots per night for the flagship soft-drink brand and has deployed seven different creatives in phased rollouts. During the first seven days two-thirds of the brand’s spots were assigned to the creative “A Celebration of Life” which showed the joyous moment of victory for several gold medal Olympians. From August 8th-14th four new creatives were worked into the rotation and “A Celebration of Life” was gradually reduced.
  • GE, also a global sponsor, has mostly been using three different TV creatives and rotating them sequentially so the same execution never appears back-to-back within the same telecast on the same day. (This pattern has also been used on GE’s cable network ad schedules). Interestingly, its ads do very little to leverage the Olympics apart from displaying the Olympic logo at the end.
  • Over the first four days of the Olympics, US sponsor Citi showed one spot per prime time telecast and used a different creative each time. Since then, it has incorporated a fifth execution into the prime time mix and has been averaging 1-2 spots per evening. But it has managed the commercial pool so that an individual creative did not air more than two consecutive days. Citi’s ads heavily focus on the Olympics, showing athletes like gymnastics medalist Gabby Douglas and Paralympic medalist Brad Snyder.

The Olympics cast a bright spotlight on advertisers, their media plans and their commercial messages. Ad creatives themselves are the most visible manifestation of these media campaigns and therefore attract lots of attention, especially when it’s a big stage like the Olympics. But once the TV commercials have been produced and media inventory has been purchased, strategic and tactical decisions still have to be made about schedule deployment of these creative assets. As our analysis shows, Olympics advertisers are making a wide variety of choices.

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