Despite Creative Firepower, Olympics Ad Push Doesn't Sway Chicagoans

And Last-Ditch Campaign Before Decision Deadline Has Sparked Additional Criticism

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CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- Chicago's bid to host the 2016 Summer Olympics has had no shortage of marketing firepower at its disposal: Nearly all of the major creative agencies in the nation's No. 2 agency market -– including Leo Burnett, Ogilvy & Mather, Downtown Partners and others -- have pitched in to help craft ads and presentations in support of the bid.

A pitch for the 2016 Summer Olympics at Soldier Field, home of the Bears.
A pitch for the 2016 Summer Olympics at Soldier Field, home of the Bears. Credit: Jose Osorio/Chicago Tribune/MCT
But for all the creative firepower aimed primarily at persuading the judges of the International Olympic Committee, the bid hasn't spent as much time or energy persuading Chicagoans that winning the games is a worthwhile goal, and that may wind up undermining its efforts.

A Chicago Tribune poll earlier this month found that only 47% of Chicagoans supported the city's bid to host the games, a potentially devastating blow so close to the Oct. 2 decision deadline.

People close to the situation said organizers have leaned on mostly favorable coverage in local newspapers and TV shows to make their case but were caught off-guard by that news, which will almost certainly be wielded by rival cities such as Rio de Janeiro, Tokyo and Madrid in their own bids to host the games. "I think they were shocked," said one person close to the bid. "And know they know it's going to be used against them."

So, in a last-ditch effort to generate local enthusiasm, organizers last week began broadcasting audio messages supporting the bid on city buses. If Twitter is any indication (search for "CTA" and "2016") the appeals from former Olympians are doing more harm than good, as sentiment toward the "propaganda" is overwhelmingly negative.

"It doesn't demonstrate public support and in fact will only erode whatever support exists," wrote Chicago Tribune columnist Steve Chapman, in a piece that mirrored the sentiment of many posts. "No one likes being aurally assaulted while part of a captive audience."

The bid also last week launched a series of print and radio ads intended to tout the potential positive economic impact that hosting the games could have for Chicago and the surrounding region.

But in the weeks and months before the recent spate of messages, the local dialogue concerning the impact of the games has largely centered around who pays for it, and a controversial provision that could leave city taxpayers on the hook for certain cost overruns. Those sorts of concerns tend to be particularly potent in a city where citizens have become accustomed to daily headlines about corruption probes in city and state government.

There are also persistent worries about the traffic and congestion that will surround construction for the games, and over whether the city's public-transit system could handle the increased traffic that would come with the Olympics.

Chicago 2016 Chief Brand Officer Mark Mitten last week referred an inquiry to a spokesman, who did not return a phone call. A subsequent call to the Chicago 2016 media line was not returned.

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