NBC getting Olympics message out far and wide

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Struggling this season in fourth place among advertiser-coveted young viewers, NBC is stretching its Winter Olympics promotions across outdoor, radio, big-box retailers, online, in-theater and cable TV, using some media platforms for the first time and depending less on its own air to whip up interest in the sports telecast.

The Olympics, running Feb. 10-26, are the first to get the full synergistic treatment from the NBC Universal conglomerate, with marketing that has popped up on the DVD release of Universal Pictures' hit "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" and on cable channels like Bravo and CNBC. Universal's theme parks in Hollywood and Orlando are hyping the Games and will host viewing parties for the opening ceremonies. A branded-entertainment mini-movie with Olympics sponsor Chevrolet started on NBC and quickly migrated to the Web and movie theaters.

Past years would've seen executives at the NBC Agency, the network's in-house marketing arm, air most of the Olympics promotions on the General Electric Co. network in the weeks leading up to the Games. But trying to reach the elusive iPod generation and following in the footsteps of other major marketers, the network started months earlier on out-of-home advertising like airlines and mass transit, radio, online, print and other media to snag potential viewers. The once-first-place network has been ratings-challenged, adding more urgency to its off-air marketing.

"Our place in the network landscape demands us to do more off-air promotion because our on-air delivery isn't as dominant as in previous years," said John Miller, president of NBC Agency and chief marketing officer of the NBC TV Group. "There's a greater mix of original shows going up against the Olympics this year, and we have to be as aggressive as possible."

The network has increased its marketing budget for the 418 hours of programming from Turin, Italy, though Mr. Miller wouldn't give specifics except to say that "it's multiples of what we've done before."

Much is at stake, said Bob Thompson, head of Syracuse University's Center for the Study of Popular Television. NBC desperately needs a ratings boost during February sweeps and a solid promotional platform for its new midseason shows. "There's so much to lose if the Games don't perform," Mr. Thompson said. "NBC is committing a lot of air time, and if people don't come, [it's] stuck."

NBC's marketing has aimed at the elusive 18-to-34-year-old demographic, with promotions that include music videos of U.S. athletes with pop, rock and hip-hop artists. Executives repeated their Athens approach from 2004, creating a quick-cut, music-driven image campaign that tries to hip up the Olympics and build awareness of an event that's not as well known among young audiences as the National Football League or Major League Baseball.

The marketing has broadened as the launch date nears to draw in the 35-plus crowd that's already familiar with the Games. The NBC Agency has created 60 original ads to hype the Olympics including an animated spot with skier Bode Miller and promos placed by Premiere Retail Network at Best Buy, Circuit City, Wal-Mart and other chains. The network is working with longtime Olympics sponsor Coca-Cola on opening-ceremony viewing parties in 10 major markets with a sweepstakes that's sending winners to Universal Studios Orlando. Secondary winners get home parties with HDTV sets and former Olympians as guests.

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