Olympics Advertisers More in the Gilded than the Digital Age

Olympics Advertisers More in the Gilded than the Digital Age
by Christina Heggie

The Opening and Closing Ceremonies of the 2012 London Olympic Games drew over a billion television viewers from around the world, with the Queen and James Bond in attendance, Sir Paul McCartney and the rest of British rock royalty providing entertainment. Perhaps cleaving to a bygone era evoked by Downton Abbey, the official Worldwide Olympic Sponsors—who each paid up to nearly 100 million dollars to sponsor the 2012 and 2014 Games of the Olympiad—didn’t seem terribly interested in making a digital play for audiences. The most noteworthy aspect of the Opening and Closing Ceremonies’ advertising was the conspicuous lack of reference to social media and other digital links that have become, if not the hallmark, at least all the buzz of our age.

A.T. Kearney conducted a far-reaching analysis of the primetime ad content for both the Opening and Closing Ceremonies across six continents, capturing over 450 television spots placed by 179 brands across eight countries. And, despite the unprecedented audience size, advertisers were not prepared to compete in the arena of digital outreach. Out of all the ads, 60 percent made no digital references whatsoever—an increase from the 50 percent who had ignored the digital world in the Opening Ceremonies. And of the remaining 40 percent, most brands skirted neatly around any reference to social media: 35 percent of companies included a URL or audible mention of a company website in their ad, and only 5 percent of the ads included a Facebook link, logo, or Twitter hashtag.


Attempting to understand why those who didn’t link to Facebook may have chosen that alternative, we analyzed the global advertisers across three digital media-driven metrics.

  1. The extent that digital media was integrated into the advertisement shown—did the ad contain references to digital media?
  2. The integration of that ad in the referenced digital media—did the content shown on the digital media reference the content of the ad so that viewers understood the link?
  3. The level of viewer engagement the digital media sparked—did the brand seek to engage with viewers and drive repeat visits to the site?

Was their avoidance accidental, or might they have made a calculated guess to disregard the online world? Here’s what we found.

Most obvious to us was that no global advertiser performed up to their potential in the social media area. P&G rated highest in our study for the best overall performance: in the Opening Ceremony, P&G ads used a combination of URLs, Twitter hashtags, and a Facebook logo in 15 out of the 16 ads shown. Its regional sites (primarily South Africa) offered up-to-date content and allowed consumers to post comments. However, by closing night, P&G had removed most digital references, except for a few URLs in the ads. What had scared these advertisers away from digital media, such that online references became less, not more of a messaging concern as the Games went on?

Samsung advertised across four of the countries in our study, and while five out of the ten ads contained digital references, only one was a standout by our metrics. The Polish advertisement linked to an Olympics-focused application that was dedicated for Samsung-only phones and provided Samsung customers with news, results, schedule and other info on the Olympics. The remaining sponsors chose to play it even safer, completely shunning the digital age in favor of traditional, golden-age advertising. While the official sponsors at least referenced digital media in a total of 60 percent of their ads, the non-sponsors acknowledged the digital world in fewer than 45 percent of ads. And three sponsoring brands—Panasonic, Acer, and Atos—did not advertise on any of the global primetime viewings studied.

So the question remains: why did the majority of brands avoid the digital channel, and why did sponsors shun the opportunity to fully capitalize on their investment of nearly 100 million dollars? The consumers were present and playing: a cursory glance at the Olympics news buzz shows that millions were using social media to communicate during the Games. Twitter reported over 150 million Olympic-centric tweets during the two-week long event. While one conclusion to draw might be that the consumers who watch TV ads are neither interested or engaged in digital media, this theory is weakening as an ever-growing portion of TV audiences report to using a second digital device while watching TV and engaging with TV-related content.

As consumers migrate their social activities, conversations, and lives into digital channels, advertisers would be wise to do the same. If advertisers can learn to compete effectively for consumers’ attention across ages and channels, they will be closer to being heard in an ever-noisier advertising world.

Christina Heggie is a senior analyst at A.T. Kearney, a global management consulting firm. She focuses on the marketing field, specializing in digital & social media. Christina leads the research team for A.T. Kearney’s annual review of Interbrand’s Top 50 companies’ on social media. She completed her B.S. with honors at Cornell University Hotel School. She can be reached at christina.heggie@atkearney.com