Traditionally, following the closing ceremony of the Olympic Games, advertisers have an opportunity to catch their breath from the weeks-long slog of marketing, knowing they won’t have to revisit another Olympics for the next two years or so.
But thanks to COVID-19, that’s not the case with this Olympic cycle; the opening ceremony of Beijing 2022 is less than six months away—the shortest gap between a Summer and Winter Games since the 1980s—leaving advertisers with precious little time to asses the lessons learned from Tokyo.
Viewership for the Summer Games got off to a rocky start, with the opening ceremony hitting a three-decade low and forcing NBCUniversal, which airs the games, to quickly start conversations with advertisers around make-goods.
By the end of the Games, NBCU saw an average of just over 15 million primetime viewers on linear TV, making Tokyo the least-watched Olympics since NBC started carrying the games in 1988. When accounting for viewing that took place on NBC's digital and streaming properties, that numbers increases to 15.5 million, which is still down 40% from the 2016 Rio Games.
"With more than 120 billion minutes of engagement across all NBCU properties for the Tokyo Olympics, all our advertisers were made whole for Tokyo Olympics advertising," a company spokeswoman said in an email.
The ratings decline follows a trend seen in other major tent-pole events over the past year, with live TV spectacles like the Oscars, Golden Globes and even the Super Bowl, seeing meaningful ratings declines.
Gold, silver and bronze lining
But while the pandemic-era games that wrapped on Sunday drew roughly half the average viewership that the Summer Olympics in London did less than a decade ago, Tokyo 2020 was not without its silver linings.
A digital viewership surge (which surely accounted for at least a portion of the linear TV decline) handed NBCUniversal’s Peacock streaming service its best two weeks since it launched last year, with nearly 6 billion minutes of coverage streamed on NBCU’s platforms by U.S. viewers.
Peacock's equity among U.S. consumers increased from 56.3 in the weeks leading up to the Games, to 62.3 after the Games began, according to the Harris Brand Platform. It also saw significant lifts in purchase consideration and momentum, according to the survey.
“I think we were all a little disappointed in terms of average audiences but our goal was to deliver on our client investments within the games,” says Jeremy Carey, managing director at Omnicom-owned sports marketing agency Optimum Sports. Carey believes this objective was fulfilled.
“We are making sure that everything is kept in perspective in regards to what Tokyo delivered based on what was purchased,” he says, noting that the Olympics, no matter how they’re staged or viewed, offer a tremendously strong value proposition for advertisers, with family-friendly content in a brand-safe environment that millions of people engage with, not just for an hour, but for weeks at a time.
Among viewers of this year's Olympic Games, 51% of U.S. adults recalled seeing an ad from a specific brand during the game, while 78% were able to identify brands that advertised, according to Harris Poll survey. Coca-Cola and Nike were the most identified advertisers, with 48% and 40% of respondents identifying them.
Overall, the ads that performed the best across segments focused on family, teamwork and American patriotism, the survey found.
That value proposition comes at a premium, though; while not quite as expensive as a Super Bowl buy, a 30-second commercial during the Olympics could cost as much as $1 million, the New York Times reports.
Eyes on Beijing
With the hiccups and price tag of the games still fresh in advertisers’ minds, it’s now all eyes on Beijing—which arguably has more unknown variables than its recent Tokyo counterpart had—leaving marketers to hold their breath amid what many have described as a hope-for-the-best, prepare-for-the-worst scenario.