Ad Campaigns Earned Their Place At The Winter Olympics

The Olympics represents the pinnacle of achievement for the world’s leading athletes. And, like the Super Bowl, such a huge televised event offers advertisers the opportunity to showcase their talents, as well. That’s exactly what viewers were treated to, across traditional and digital screens, these part few weeks.

Ad Campaigns Earned Their Place At The Winter Olympics

by Keith Loria

Posted on 02-15-2018

The Olympics represents the pinnacle of achievement for the world’s leading athletes. And, like the Super Bowl, such a huge televised event offers advertisers the opportunity to showcase their talents, as well.

That’s exactly what viewers were treated to, across traditional and digital screens, these part few weeks. While big brands might have spent less overall than they did on the Winter Games in 2014, this time around U.S. ad spend set a $900 million record of its own, according to Olympics broadcaster NBC. The number of viewers also exceeded guarantees made to advertisers, network executives said.

“TV plus digital campaigns are important for brands that are focusing on sports because fans are increasingly engaging with content across multiple devices, especially the TV and mobile,” said Christopher Vollmer, a principal with PwC U.S. and leader of Strategy&’s global Media and Entertainment practice.

As a result, standing out from the competition became all the more crucial.

“Our analysis shows two things can substantively improve campaign performance: the content of the message and how consumers are drawn into the initiative through digital information channels,” said Martha Mathers, marketing practice leader at Gartner.

Longtime Olympics advertisers carried that torch. Visa’s PyeongChang campaign, for example, included an interactive shopping platform where customers were invited to use Visa Checkout to expedite purchases on a dedicated e-commerce section on NBC’s Olympics website. The e-commerce platform was updated in real time to feature apparel worn by athletes, such as during the opening ceremony or while standing on the medal podium.

Meanwhile, Procter & Gamble executed across a variety of media channels and in-store. Its “Love Over Bias” marketing promotion was the latest installment of its award-winning “Thank You, Mom” campaign, involving brands Always, Gillette, Pantene, Head & Shoulders, Tide, Pampers, Bounty, and Downy. Many decorated Olympians took part, reliving their own journeys to the global stage.

And as part of a 27-country global strategy reflecting the Olympic spirit of encouragement, challenge, and progress, Toyota’s “Start Your Impossible” campaign highlighted real-life mobility stories of both Olympic and Paralympic athletes, as well as those who demonstrate the positive values of humility, hard work, and never giving up. The campaign comprised a series of commercials (including “Lanes of Life,” photo at top).

“This is the very first time, for Toyota, that one campaign, one tagline, united every single region, every single Toyota around the world,” Fabio Costa, executive creative director at Saatchi & Saatchi, told Adweek.

Standout ad performances don’t stop there. Let’s take a closer look at what three more brands are up to with their Winter Games campaigns.


As a flagship brand of PepsiCo’s Frito-Lay division, Cheetos has long been known for its innovative ads that attract Millennials with buzzworthy commercials and, more recently, digital offerings.

For the 2018 Winter Games, Cheetos partnered with USA Curling to create a campaign around its new, limited-edition Cheetos Winter White Cheddar Curls. The campaign featured YouTube musical sensation Todrick Hall and football all-stars Vernon Davis and LaDainian Tomlinson, who created a new dance move, “The Curl.”

Ryan Matiyow, senior director of marketing for Frito-Lay, noted the dance is designed to win support for the unsung heroes of the sheet—what curlers call the ice—leading up to USA Curling’s run through the Winter Games.

The music video, “Teach Me How to Curl,” is available on Cheetos’ social channels; Cheetos also is encouraging people worldwide to get in on the fun by recording and sharing their own curl dance using the #DoTheCurl hashtag. As of Feb. 8, it already had 2.1 million views.

“The Cheetos brand prides itself on adding a little mischievous flare to whatever we do,” Matiyow says. “The more fans who join the movement and do ‘The Curl,’ the more love and excitement USA Curling will feel, bringing the curling team that much closer to sweeping the competition this February.”

United Airlines

United Airlines has been the official airline for the United States Olympic Committee for 38 years. According to Mark Krolick, United’s VP of marketing, the Winter Games provided a unique opportunity for the company to demonstrate to Olympic fans, customers, and employees this partnership through a dedicated campaign that plays off current culture and people’s love for all things superhero.

More specifically, the campaign demonstrated the unique powers necessary to get to The Games—whether that’s the exceptional athletic skills of Team USA athletes or the hard work of United employees responsible for flying Team USA and customers to the moments that matter most.

“Our campaign is inspired by the idea that Olympic athletes are revered as superheroes in their sport, doing things most mortals cannot. But when teamed up with United employees, the true journey begins,” Krolick told “Together, they form one superhuman team. The Olympic Games are about bringing the world together. That is a mission we share at United.”

To help bring this story to life, United and its ad agency, McGarryBowen, partnered with Hollywood director Martin Campbell and composer Brian Tyler, who created an original score.

“Much of the campaign was based on a mobile-first strategy. The digital and social platforms the campaign is appearing on are available on mobile, and the creative lends itself to social media viewing and engagement,” Krolick said. “Social media is one of the campaign’s primary distribution channels and where we are showcasing a variety of video content—from individual athlete and employee vignettes to behind-the-scenes footage from the making of the campaign.”


Based on what has worked well for it during previous Olympic campaigns, Kellogg’s leaned heavily into earned tactics, said Sam Minardi, the company’s director of brand marketing.

“By nature, the Olympics are highly earned themselves—in terms of visibility and talk value—and provide an opportunity for Americans to engage with our brands and the athletes we’ve chosen to represent them,” he told

The company’s “What Gets You Started” campaign offers an inside perspective of the athletes’ mindsets, motivations, and morning routines as part of Team Kellogg’s.>

Watch how #TeamKelloggs has prepared for our journey to — Nathan Chen (@nathanwchen) February 1, 2018

“We dig deep into their stories and want to share what truly gets them started—because everyone has a reason to wake up in the morning and uncover the potential of each new day, and we want them to join the conversation and share their own daily inspirations with #GetsMeStarted,” Minardi said.

Kellogg’s has leveraged a variety of tactics and digital channels to drive the #GetsMeStarted conversation.

“Our use of earned media delivers a high level of mobile interaction,” Minardi said. “Additionally, we will be sharing real-time social updates … while on the ground in PyeongChang, which we know people will be following via their mobile devices.”

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