Every two years, people from all over the world tune in to NBC to cheer on their country and watch their favorite sports. But for businesses, the Olympics are a marketing event that draws in an unimaginable number of potential customers. By becoming an Olympic partner and sponsor, companies can create campaigns that will be seen throughout the world. If a company has the resources to access that platform, then they have an opportunity to make a real impact. And in order to make it happen, Olympic ads must play by a different set of rules.

There’s More Than One Way to Win

Olympic advertising has been going on for decades, which means there have been hundreds of different strategies. While it would take weeks to go into detail about every campaign, let’s just focus on three key examples. Each of these campaigns focuses on different aspects of the Olympic athlete. The differing approaches are all successful in bringing about emotional responses from their audience — which is always a good idea for advertisers.

“Mini” Brand, Maximum Impact

Mini USA aired their iconic #defylabels campaign at the 2016 Summer Olympics. With an interactive element, the audience could connect with athletes on-screen while looking inward at all the labels they have been given throughout their lives. Then they had Olympians, with very selective words, announce a label that had been forced upon them given their backstory. The strategic, minimal use of dialogue emphasized the impact and heaviness of the labels. It allowed the audience to have their own moment of introspection and connect to Olympic athletes in a way they never could before. The last scene of the ad drew comparisons to the brand itself by introducing a Mini Cooper with copy that said, “Mini salutes U.S. Olympians who defy labels.” This ad showed that the Mini brand wants to attract consumers who don’t allow society’s labels to determine what they’re capable of achieving. The theme parallels Mini’s own work in defying the “girly” or “small” labels that have been given to the brand. If Olympians can triumph and defy their labels, then so can Mini, and so can those who drive their car. See what you think of the spot.




The focus of this ad from Mini was to not only connect their brand to the Olympics, but to focus on drawing out an emotional and personal response from the audience. The commercial didn’t “tell” the audience all the unique features of the Mini; it showed the values of their brand. Differing from a normal ad, many Olympic ads aren’t focused on selling a product to the audience, but instead selling values and showing their support.

Virgin Media: Faster Than a Speeding Bolt

Another popular ad campaign from the 2016 Rio Olympics was created by BBH for Virgin Media, and it revolved around Usain Bolt. Their #bethefastest campaign was fittingly named for the athlete they used. Unlike Mini, who had multiple Olympians, Virgin Media decided to pay big bucks for just one high-profile athlete. This strategy was unique in that it compiled multiple shorter ads in different formats that worked together in a longer 100-second ad. The focus of the campaign was to show all that can happen in 9.58 seconds. The 9.58 seconds is significant — it was Usain Bolt’s world record time in the 100m race. In each different 9.58-second segment of the ad, they featured clips of Jamaican fans watching Usain win, a training montage with Usain, a scientific data approach to his race, a young boy in an edited video game, and an animated superhero named “The Bolt.” Choosing Usain Bolt and showing a clock in each clip to time the 9.58 seconds really emphasized just how fast those nine seconds can be. Virgin Media drew the parallel between his ability to be fast and their ability to #bethefastest in their field. Check out how fast 9.58 seconds really is in the full 100-second ad.



Virgin Media utilized a single Olympian and demonstrated his abilities as a creative visual metaphor for the company. By creating multiple 9.58-second sections of the ad, they could have super-short, yet effective, ads that really drove home how fast they are. By attaching a single attribute of the athlete to their company’s motto, they didn’t need to explain their brand for the audience to understand their benefits. A simple message goes a long way.

A Gift Sweeter Than Hershey’s Chocolate

The last campaign is different from both the Mini and Virgin Media campaigns. Hershey’s “Hello From Home” campaign also debuted at the 2016 Summer Olympics and it focused on the family behind the athlete. They had a more heartfelt message that was based on the sacrifices Olympians make to reach their dreams. Unlike Virgin Media’s use of a narrator’s voice, Hershey used voice clips from the athlete’s family and friends, offering the commercial a more personal feel. Hershey wanted to give the athlete (they chose Simone Biles) a gift from those back home in order to achieve her dream. This was a longer ad format, clocking in at two minutes, and gave the audience time to become invested in the story being told. In the ad, they juxtaposed the hands of the Hershey chocolate makers as they packaged the candy to Simone Biles’ hands as she did gymnastics. It was a unique way to compare the hard training of the Olympian with the hard work of the Hershey employees. But the secret emotional ingredient was Simone Biles reading out personalized notes from her friends and family that were delivered in individually wrapped Hershey’s bars. Watch her open them and try your hardest not to tear up.



Hershey set themselves apart with this campaign because they gave Simone a physical gift and something that meant a lot to her. While both Mini and Virgin Media showed their support of the Olympians through their overall messages, Hershey went the extra step by giving Simone a real display of their appreciation and support. By taking this heartfelt approach, Hershey’s walked the walk instead of just talking the talk, showing their audience that they are a family-oriented company that cares about those they serve.

All three of these companies took different approaches to their Olympic ad campaigns. And all three of them were successful in evoking different emotions from their audiences.

Advertisers Compete in Their Own Olympic Event

There are many approaches for companies to take when creating Olympic campaigns. The most hard-hitting and memorable ads feature heartfelt messages, showcase amazing abilities, or tell a backstory that is relatable to those watching. Given a captive audience with heightened emotions, advertising in the Olympics is an opportunity for companies to go for the gold.