NBC Universal isn't set to unleash the full force of the promotional push for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi until Oct. 29, but that isn't stop it from jumping the gun this weekend.
And why not?
With Saturday night's college football matchup between Notre Dame and USC and Sunday night's NFL matchup featuring Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning returning to Indianapolis, NBC likely has two of the highest-rated shows of the weekend on its hands.
The company will break four spots over the weekend. Among the U.S. athletes showcased are snowboarder Shaun White, skier Lindsey Vonn and speed skater Shani Davis.
"All the new spots in some way make you care about the Olympics. Or the athletes. Or some element of the whole Olympic feeling," said John Miller, CMO of NBC's sports group. Mr. Miller added that once the campaign gets rolling in full force, the marketing tonnage between paid and unpaid media will be "the equivalent of three to four major motion pictures."
With the backing of owner Comcast, the quartet of new commercials are the first in a blizzard of over 500 promo spots.
The marketing push rolls into high gear Oct. 29 when NBC launches a 20-channel promotional roadblock during the 8 p.m. hour to kick off a 100-day countdown to Sochi.
NBC will use its two broadcast networks, 18 cable channels, 65 web sites and 230-plus broadcast affiliates to promote interest in Sochi over coming months.
But it will also buy media time on outside TV networks, satellite companies, telcos and social media channels. There will be a big retail and outdoor element, with NBC placing Sochi ads in Walmart and Best Buy stores as well on commuter trains and New York City taxi cabs.
"With the strong support of Comcast, we can do a lot of this ourselves with our own media properties," said Mr. Miller. "But there's some things we want to do in those four to five days prior to the games where we want to be ubiquitous. That requires going a little bit off our air."
A Tiger Woods connection?
Featuring Mr. White and Mr. Davis, both two-time gold medalists, in ads was a no-brainer. But NBC also hopes to ride the wave of attention around Ms. Vonn: a gold medalist in the downhill who's been romantically linked to Tiger Woods.
"That doesn't hurt us at all. We hope that relationship continues right through the games," said Mr. Miller.
Research shows viewers don't focus on the Olympics until three or four weeks out. With the Olympics actually planning a day of competition on Feb. 6, one day before the Feb. 7 Opening Ceremonies, NBC wants to create as much early interest as it can.
NBC's marketing strategy can be boiled down into three words, he said: "Make Them Care."
Narrated by Giancarlo Esposito, one of the stars of NBC's "Revolution," the four new spots explore the dreams, dedication and sacrifices of Winter Olympians.
The first spot to debut called "The Same" notes how very different athletes pursue the same goal.
Another spot called "Dream" starts with home-movie footage of future Olympians. "It begins with a dream born in the hearts of children. Realized years later by a precious few," says Mr. Esposito, who was nominated for an Emmy for his portrayal of Gus Fring on AMC's "Breaking Bad."
A third called "Trade" shows unpaid Olympians training for their big moment. "Would you trade thousands of hours for one-thousandth of a second?" asks Mr. Esposito. "They would."
In the fourth, Mr. Esposito asks why the world puts aside its difference and collectively tunes in to watch sports such as figure skating, snowboarding and skiing that don't get viewership at other times
NBC mostly handles ads in-house. But it's using a variety of shops for the campaign, including: Studio City; Stun Creative, Edge Creative and TVGLA.