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Olympic Advertising

Written: 2016-08-10

Edited:   2021-08-06


It was a privilege to be able to attend the Olympics, from opening ceremony to closing ceremony, in Atlanta (1996), Nagano (1998), and Sydney (2000). The ceremonies get more extravagant each year and you have to wonder how they are going to top it the following year. The 2021 Games presented special challenges.

The Atlanta Olympic Games was the beginning of e-business for IBM. A member of my team built an experimental “ticket server” to see if we could sell tickets to the Games online. At the time, 1995, it was the largest e-commerce site on the Internet. The first commercial customer for the technology followed later that year at L.L. Bean.

The athletes who compete to win or lose by a small fraction of a second are truly incredible and a tribute to their countries. The other thing about the Olympic Games which gets more incredible each year is the advertising. Some tell me I am in the minority on the issue, but I think the amount of advertising is over the top. When is enough enough? It is clear NBC’s top priority is advertising revenue. Athletes, consumers, and viewers are second priority. I have seen cases where a race was seconds from ending when the video cut over to an ad. If you watch the Olympics on a mobile device, you will frequently see, “Coverage Will Resume Shortly”. That means they have not sold as many ads as for live TV and have nothing else to show. Dead time.

An analysis of the programming would likely show the following as the most repeated phrases during the Games.

  • Coming up
  • We’ll be right back
  • When we come back
  • After the break
  • Right after this
  • Stay with us

Years ago, I had the privilege of sitting next to Bob Costas at a dinner. What a nice and impressive man. He looked much younger than his then 64 years (he will be 70 next year). When I heard him say on TV, “stay with us”, I detected he was inwardly saying, “I know you have already seen these ads dozens of times and could recite them word for word, and I also know you are likely going to the kitchen or lavatory while they are playing even though consultants who measure viewers are telling the advertisers how many millions of people were watching.

Producers, like journalists and publishers, deserve to be compensated for the value they create. Lugging robotic video cameras and support people plus knowledgeable announcers costs a lot of money. The question is how do consumers pay? One way is to watch two hours of Olympic Games and an hour of droning highly duplicative advertisements, like today. Another model is to pay a fee per view. Instead of watching three hours of Olympic Games loaded with repeating ads, you pay a fee and watch streaming of the two hours of Olympic Games from 8 to 10. Another example is to watch events and news via YouTube TV. I watch the 6p.m. news at 6:30p.m., 100% news. Another model could be, if you are willing to provide some personal preferences, is endure a full load of advertising but the ads are tailored to things relevant to you based on your profile. There are many possible models but the droning of duplicate ads on a high frequency basis may be the worst model to many of us.

I would call giving consumers a choice of various options an advertising attitude. It is a natural extension of Net Attitude: What It Is, How to Get It, and Why Your Company Can’t Survive Without It which I wrote in 2001. The concept lives on with Net Attitude (version 2), Health Attitude, Election Attitude, Home Attitude, and Robot Attitude.