With the Rio Olympics now at an end and Team GB making history by finishing second in the medals table, we look back at some key lessons learned in digital marketing that have emerged through online media coverage surrounding the games.

Jumping on trending topics to leverage their interest is a massive opportunity for many digital marketers, and the Rio Olympics proved to be an extremely valuable trend. With the relaxed rules take surrounding the use of the Rio Olympics brand this year, it wasn’t just the big players who managed to benefit, which is a breathe of fresh air in media where usually only the official sponsors emerge victorious. Brands such as Virgin Media took advantage of the games coverage through the use of previous sponsorship deals, trending topics, hashtags and clever wording while keeping in line with the relaxed rules such as avoiding the use of official logos, terms such as “Rio” and “2016”, in a bid from Rio to avoid over commercialisation of the games.

Paddy Power Billboard - Credit Campaign Live

Paddy Power Billboard – Credit Campaign Live

In traditional marketing, Paddy Power bent the rules in the past. During the London 2012 Olympics they ‘sponsored’ an egg and spoon race in a town called London in France! Clever wording made it look as though they were sponsoring the London 2012 Olympics thus leveraging it’s trend at the time. Clever although a little underhand, some might say.

What do these relaxed rules mean for official sponsors?

Official sponsors such as McDonalds are rightfully angry regarding the situation. They stated that they would monitor the situation and report anything they deem to be breaking the rules in a bid to ensure they’re getting value for money as an official sponsor investing huge amounts of money into the games for a number of years;

“As the official restaurant of the Olympic Games we will monitor this space and look at what we can as well as work with the IOC to manage issues that will arise as things come up. We’ve not had any issues to date,” says a McDonald’s spokesman. “We do need to act as a monitor and ensure that we’re protecting our right as a top partner.”

With brands such as Paddy Power setting a strong precedent by getting away with bending the rules even going back to London 2012 before the relaxation was introduced, McDonalds were rightfully worried. However, it was always unlikely that any brand could leverage Rio like the official sponsors. Being shown across multiple media platforms a significant number of times benefitted them all massively in comparison to the smaller brands attempting to ‘steal’ coverage. There’s no wonder the likes of Airbnb went down the official sponsorship route, projecting income of 25 million dollars for their hosts between August 5-21 when the games took place.

Samsung, an official sponsor, have had huge success this Olympic Games, much more than that of any unofficial sponsor, demonstrating the benefits that taking an official route can achieve. (However, is this because other official sponsors have failed to ‘create a buzz’?) Here’s their campaign, ‘The Anthem';

According to Marketing Week, Samsung received almost 3 times the amount of mentions in the opening week as the next best performing official sponsor, Coca Cola, with 15,000 and 5,651 mentions respectively. It is thought that campaigns were released too late which explains the lack of interaction and ‘buzz’ created by most brands. Samsung and Coca Cola successfully launched ‘pre-olympic’ campaigns to create hype and this was reflected in their performance on social media leading up to the games. A key technique, well executed.

By watching the games and monitoring brands online activity, we learned 5 lessons that any brand can employ:

5 Lessons from Rio

Rio 2016

1. Timing is everything

Much like Marketing Week found, timing really is everything with digital campaigns. The two most successful campaigns from Samsung and Coca Cola both had ‘pre-Olympic’ campaigns planned out to create a ‘buzz’ and anticipation leading up to the games.

2. Consistency, continuity and convenience of content

The BBC have taken advantage of their position as Olympic coverage broadcasters by keeping on top of and releasing a constant flow of content and unique interaction through a wide variety of channels. Here’s some things they’ve done well:

  • Combined channels and technologies including the BBC Sport website, app, Red Button+, BBC Sport 360 (live and on-demand content in 360-degree video for the first time) and BBC iPlayer
  • Offered a personalised service throughout the Games, allowing fans to create their own personal Olympics feed
  • The use of push alerts and event reminders to make sure viewers didn’t miss out on their favourite events.
  • Interactive content and gamification features such as ‘Which Olympic athlete are you?
  • Reaction with content in real time in line with headline events
  • Varied content (Key moments videos, interviews, articles, social media posts)
  • Partnered with Snapchat to provide live stories on a daily basis and with Google on the OneBox experience
  • Utilised social media hashtags to encourage interaction
  • Run Facebook Live sessions with leading Team GB athletes

With so much live TV coverage, however, something was bound to go awry. Between ‘skirt-gate’ and John Inverdale’s blunder, there were some excellent ‘mishaps’ during BBC4 coverage, made all the more entertaining with Dan Walker’s commentary. However, the overall focus on engagement, new and innovative content and live interaction has more than made up for this, concluded with this highlights post of memorable moments.

This paid off for BBC Sport, who reported their biggest ever year, reaching 102.3m unique global browsers, 68.3m of which were from the UK.

3. Leveraging trending topics furthers reach

It’s common knowledge in marketing, particularly digital, that leveraging trending topics can further your reach considerably,. the Olympics being a prime example. However, trending topics within trending topics has emerged as a lesson here. For example, within the Olympics trend, Team GB trended massively due to their fantastic performances and second place medal standing. Taking advantages of trends within trends has emerged as a new digital marketing trend in itself!

4. Official sponsorship cannot be easily surpassed

The coverage official sponsors receive from a high profile event such as the Olympic Games cannot be surpassed by any unofficial methods. This is only backed up in the fact that McDonalds have continually sponsored Olympic Games each time they’re held. Some of the benefits to sponsorships include:

  • TV airtime to millions of viewers
  • Social media coverage
  • Website listing
  • Logo and branding placement opportunities

5. But unofficial routes can certainly be beneficial!

With the above being said, unofficial strategies can work well too, and especially this Olympics. One strategy many brands have used is sponsoring athletes rather than the Olympics as a whole. This is much more cost effective yet has still generated massive levels of exposure. For example, Sofa specialist DFS selected three medal winners from Team GB to be their ambassadors. Campaign Live stated;

“The greatest activation programme from a TEAM GB partner was DFS, which selected three medalists – Peaty, Trott and Max Whitlock – as it’s ambassadors. It’s content series from Team GB House in Rio has been the standout campaign, generating exclusive behind the scenes content from the house DFS helped design and furnish. There’s also been lots of traction on Twitter with the #Flipit game, the leader board of which was topped by Whitlock. DFS was able to blend the right activation by utilising their official partnership assets with storytelling from its ambassadors, coupled with highly targeted media partnerships and realtime placements throughout the games.”

Other notable brand performers on social media include:

  • The National Lottery
  • Aldi
  • Visa

The Rio Olympics has proved to be a valuable trending topic for brands to jump on, particularly with digital strategies. By timing campaigns appropriately, brands have been able to build hype leading up to the games and leverage The Olympic Games worldwide appeal and coverage to interact with followers on social media and ultimately strengthen their brand awareness and business worth. The 5 lessons learned have proved transferrable to smaller businesses and bring food for thought for anyone’s digital strategies moving forward.