If you keep up with my blog posts, then you know I’m a big fan of disruptive ideas and non-traditional storytelling. It’s my belief that, as our relationship with media evolves, so do the opportunities for brands to engage with us. That means brands can reach us in places they haven’t before, and bring us incredible, engaging stories or experiences they weren’t capable of bringing in eras passed. While we’re not in the so-called “Golden Age of Advertising” anymore, we’re at an incredible juncture where a brand’s message intersects with meaningful brand actions. And in the news right now, there’s a lot going on in terms of actions. Namely, the Olympics.
A lot of brands make sure they’re well represented during the Olympics, and this year was no exception. From athlete sponsorships to inspiring commercials, there was a lot of good advertising happening this year, even if the Games have been a little tense with social and political issues.
But there are a few brands that took their Olympics presence to the next level. Let’s take a look at some of them.
Energy Drinks, Eat Your Heart Out
The iconic “Got Milk?” campaign just got a big refresh, and the best new execution out of the campaign is a fabulous stunt which was released just in time for the Olympics.
Creative agency Gale had the hilarious and brilliant idea for their client, The Milk Processor Education Program (MilkPEP), to build a gym inside the dairy cooler of a local grocery store. The Fridge features Olympic athletes Kristin Armstrong and Ariel Torres training in the milk stocking room of a grocery store. Why? Because, as Armstrong puts it at the end of the commercial, milk is “how I recover. It’s important to be within arms reach.”
The fun of the stunt is getting to watch unsuspecting shoppers take a closer look in the fridge to see Torres karate-chopping (hya!) and Armstrong racing on a stationary bike. The purpose of the stunt is even better. While the old “Got Milk?” campaign was about what happens when you don’t have milk, the new one explores what happens when you do. In this case, you can be an Olympic athlete… who trains with milk by your literal side.
The new brand message– that milk can be your recovery sports drink and help you excel athletically– fits like a puzzle piece in this perfectly-timed stunt, and that makes it quite memorable.
All Aboard the Trend Train
You don’t live under a rock, so you know about TikTok. And yes, it is so much more than teens dancing or lip-syncing songs from The Backyardigans. In fact, besides being a treasure trove of content, it is the place to be for brands to grow their audience.
Comcast accomplished just that with #XfinityFanthem.
The Tokyo Games are airing on NBC this year, and Comcast, its parent company, wanted to find a way to get as many new, young eyeballs on the events as they possibly could. It just so happens that a lot of those young eyeballs are on the short-form video app. With a little help from 72andSunny, Comcast started a viral trend where everyday people and Olympians alike shared videos of their interpretation of the Games’ anthem “Bugler’s Dream.” People had their dogs sing along, they added a drumline, they did Team USA inspired make-up, among other things. This charmingly simple idea leverages the creative power of the app. By letting the users express themselves and tell a story in their own way, they don’t just see an ad, they help create them.
The results are self-evident: 6.5B views on the app and counting. The brand plans to air a compilation of the videos during the Games’ closing ceremony. What a nice touch.
The beauty of social media, especially of TikTok, is a brand not having to make an ad in order to create a solution. Instead, they just make good content that people gravitate toward. Plus, let's be honest, it’s a whole heck of a lot more entertaining than a lot of ads out there.
On Foot Activation
While a lot of brands ran to TikTok to promote their Olympic partnerships, one Olympic athlete ran the track to promote her brand.
Track star Allyson Felix made headlines recently for becoming the most decorated American track star in Olympic history, which she did wearing her own shoe brand.
Felix forgoed a partnership with Nike to instead launch her own brand of running shoes called Saysh. Then she tied the record for most medals for a track athlete. Then she broke that record. Felix proved she didn’t need Nike to elevate her running abilities, and that she could do it on her own. The result is major attention on the young brand, which is available for pre-order until officially releasing in September. If this stunt is any indicator, Felix can expect success on release day.
Of all the brand activations coming out of the Olympics this year, this one is my favorite. Maybe it’s because I love an underdog story, but also, it’s because Felix proved her fledgling brand’s message with a meaningful action. These are shoes that support black women’s excellence.
Felix plans to auction off the shoes and donate the proceeds to charity.
It would be tempting to say that this isn’t really “marketing” in any proper sense, and maybe that’s true, but then I ask: so what? The fact that an athlete wearing shoes doesn’t really feel like a business solution is part of why it works so well. Felix subtly drew attention to herself simply by changing her shoes, and no one can stop talking about it.
If it works, it works.
On The Podium
There were tons of great ads during the Olympics this year. Nike, HP, Nabisco, Peloton, Etsy, Facebook, Ford, Chipotle: all these brands made some pretty great commercials that aired during the Games. But they were just ads.
These three brand actions stand out for their disruptive nature and their high engagement. They leverage the cultural moment, and give their brand a meaningful role. It’s exciting to watch brands draw people into their story, and not just tell it to them.
In my book, that gets the gold.