Marketers to spend big in social media during Olympics

/// Marketers to spend big in social media during Olympics

July 27, 2012  |  Blog

Olympic sponsors will spend untold millions of dollars in a desperate attempt to shape, mold and control one thing: consumer use of social media.

It won’t be easy. Even if these are the Social Games — as they have been tagged — for the big-spending sponsors, there could be more losers than winners.

“People use social media to connect with each other,” says Nate Elliott, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research, the tech consultancy. “They don’t use it much to connect with brands.”

That’s hardly stopping the big sponsors from trying. Nor, for that matter, do they have a choice. The 11 biggest corporate sponsors doled out nearly $1 billion for the rights to flaunt the Olympic seal during the London Games and 2010′s Winter Games in Vancouver.

Coca-Cola is using social media to nudge Olympic fans to create and share music videos. General Electric is using it to coax folks to improve their health. Visa is using it to nudge fans to post elaborate cheers for the athletes. During the London Games, “we are going to see the use of social media surpass any sporting event in history,” says Bob Liodice, CEO of the Association of National Advertisers.

The Big Question for sponsors entering the 2012 Summer Games: Is the enormous amount of time and money that Olympic marketers are pouring into social media a brilliant investment — or a gigantic waste? Answer: Yes — to both.

Consider: 87% of adults in the U.S. who go online say they’ve used some form of social media in 2012, reports Forrester. That compares with 63% in 2007. That’s why 80% of marketers are using online video, such as YouTube, in 2012, vs. 64% in 2011, says a recent ANA digital survey. And 90% of marketers are using social media as part of their marketing mix, reports the ANA.

Two years ago, Olympic sponsor Procter & Gamble figures roughly 10% of the total Winter Games ad impressions that it left in the minds of consumers were from social media. But for the London Games, its global brand-building officer, Marc Pritchard is making an astounding projection: Social media will account for roughly half its impressions.
“We have evidence,” Pritchard asserts, “that our social-media space provides a better return than TV.”

But getting folks using Facebook or Twitter to focus on brands — instead of athletes — may be an Olympian task. While social-media activity for Olympic sponsors might be enormously successful in terms of hits or likes, people suppress the brand name if the brand doesn’t have a natural fit with the social-media activity, says brand consultant Martin Lindstrom. As a result, says the author of Buyology: Truth and Lies about Why We Buy, the enormous amount of social-media spending for most of the major Olympic sponsors “is nothing more than a lot of time and money wasted.”

Many brands would be better served plowing the millions of dollars they’re spending on social promotions into developing one-on-one relations with consumers, says marketing guru and author Julie Hall.

Sure, social media will result in more than 500 billion “peer influence impressions” in 2012, Forrester projects. But, says Elliott, Olympic sponsors need to face one reality: The majority of what people post online is not about products or brands — it’s about themselves, their interests and their friends.

However, Coca-Cola’s social-marketing chief says sponsors such as Coke can supply “share-worthy” content that gives young adults “cred” in their social-media circles. “The numbers have passed the skeptics at this point,” says Wendy Clark, senior vice president of integrated marketing. “We don’t spend this amount of time on things that don’t work.”

The social-media numbers attracting the sponsors are breathtaking. There were 100 million Facebook users in the 2008 Summer Games, vs. 900 million this go-round, and roughly 6 million Twitter followers during the last Summer Games, vs. about 500 million today.

“Social media has become the major force in the communications business,” says marketing consultant Al DiGuido.

That’s why these Olympics sponsors and marketers are convinced social media will help them nudge consumers to create, post or share:

Coca-Cola

Coca-Cola hopes to reach up to 1.5 billion people through its create-your-own-beat mobile and social-media campaign.

•Toasts to Mom. Long before he attempts to win a record nine Olympic gold medals, swimmer Ryan Lochte took care of some important business back home: He casually tweeted about the heart-tugging video that he and his mom made for Procter & Gamble.

So did several dozen other Olympic athletes, which might help explain why, before the Games begin, more than 28 million consumers have viewed at least one of P&G’s feel-good videos about the special relationships between Olympic athletes and their moms.

Each video is a two-to-three-minute insight into an Olympic athlete — but through his or her mom’s eyes. Pritchard says it’s worth the effort: P&G’s social-media efforts get up to 50% better returns than one of its average TV spots.

•New tunes. Coca-Cola has opted to put its Olympic social-media efforts to a beat.

By the time the London Games end, Coke expects to reach 1.5 billion people worldwide via its create-your-own-beat social-media and mobile campaign, estimates Clark.

The “Create My Beat” promo begins with the sounds of six athletes set to a musical track, then asks consumers to add their own sounds to the track — and share it. Also, Coke’s “My Beatmaker” app for smartphones lets teens create a beat through the motion of their phones.

The currency in social networks is content,” says Clark. “Our role as a brand is to give consumers that currency.”

•Health tips. More than eight in 10 young adults share health information with friends via social-media channels. That led General Electric to focus its Olympic social-media efforts on health.

For the Olympics, GE has launched a Facebook app dubbed HealthyShare. The app gives consumers a chance to listen to advice from Olympic athletes — including basketball player Kevin Durant and swimmer Summer Sanders— and set one-step-at-a-time health goals.

“This is not just a 17-day (social-media) goal,” says Linda Boff, global executive director of digital advertising at GE. “The Olympics are step one.”

•Digital cheers. Visa is asking Olympic fans to create and send “global cheers” — via social media — to some 60 Olympic athletes.

To nudge them on, Visa is promising to include snippets of the best cheers it receives in TV commercials that it will air during the London Games. The cheers can be as simple as a one-click cheer on Visa’s Facebook page to a complex video posted on Visa’s YouTube channel.

“In Beijing, we recognized the athletes, but this year, we’re inviting consumers to do that instead,” says Kevin Burke, chief marketing officer of core products at Visa. “Everything we do will be put through the social-media filter.”

•Worker tales. For McDonald’s, the Olympic social-media focus will be on its own employees.

McDonald’s is rewarding its top crew members from around the world by letting them work at McDonald’s Olympic locations during the Games. It’s assigned seven video workers to follow the crew members around — night and day — and post new videos on their adventures in London as often as possible.

“We’re not communicating a corporate message,” says Sosti Ropaitis, director of social media for McDonald’s. “It’s an emotional message.”

But is anyone listening? Yes, says Ropaitis. McDonald’s social-media channels globally have 10 times the number of followers as in 2010.
•Olympic history. The official time-keeper of the Olympics is also crowning itself the unofficial Olympic history buff.

Throughout the Games, Omega will post on its Facebook page and via Twitter tweets, morsels of Olympic history, mostly focused on Olympic records related to time.

“It’s the chance of a lifetime to use social media,” says Stephen Urquhart, president of Omega.

•Olympic buzz. While it’s the athletes who initially create the Olympic buzz, it will be broadcaster NBC, along with its social-media platforms Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Storify that push it out.

Olympic fans who “like” NBC Olympics on Facebook will have access to exclusive content. Also, Facebook will launch Facebook “Talk Meter” during the Games, which tracks, measures and ranks the most popular Olympic-related topics on its site. NBC will constantly clue in viewers to these topic trends.

Compared with NBC’s minor social-media efforts during the Beijing Games, says Gary Zenkel, president of NBC Olympics, “it’s an entirely different stratosphere.”

Even then, the Olympics won’t be a bonanza for all brands, insists Forrester’s Elliott.

“There will be many billions of social-media influences created by the Olympics,” he notes. “But brands will be just a fraction of the conversation.”

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