Olympics marketers find that certain emotional responses drive better ad outcomes

By Oliver Smith, evp sales, US, Unruly 

For the highly charged competitive landscape that is the world of sporting events and advertising, 2020 has been a high-stakes year, and there’s no sign of letup in the months to come. Super Bowl LIV took place this month in front of a US audience of 102 million fans; this spring, record audiences are expected for soccer’s Euro 2020; the summer will bring the Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo and the Ryder Cup for golf.

With all these events expected to fuel a six percent increase in global ad spend, the rivalries won’t be limited to the running track or football fields, either. Brands will once again compete for audiences’ hard-won attention.

With so many brands striving to piggyback on these events, and with the mounting pressure that advertisers and agencies face in trying to achieve brand and business metrics, marketers must be wary of the fallout that results from bombarding consumers with continuous advertising.

Chasing quick wins is part of most advertisers’ strategies, but a lack of balance when it comes to targeting and frequency can damage the consumer experience. Too much of the same, plus poor contextual alignment, can take a toll. Consumers are creeped out by ads that follow them around the web, especially when irrelevant to their interests, and the data held by DMPs on consumers can be wildly inaccurate. As P&G’s Marc Pritchard says, “We targeted too much and went too narrow.”

It’s time to bid farewell to the days of short-term payoffs and instead look to the long-term. When it comes to sports audiences like the ones advertisers will seek this year, the emotions associated with athletes and their accomplishments may well take center field.

Sporting emotions drive competitive advertisers
Unruly CEO Norm Johnston says the Summer Olympic Games, along with 2020’s other tentpole sporting events, will provide a strong platform for putting a long-term insights-driven plan into action.

“The demise of the cookie and mounting pressure to increase levels of transparency, creativity and emotion provide the injection of magic that is needed to reinvigorate programmatic advertising,” Johnston says. “Furthermore, creative innovation spurs marketers to look beyond direct response metrics and grasp the brand-building opportunity programmatic offers that is so often overlooked.”

A study from The Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA) and renowned marketing expert Peter Field, shows that positive emotions in advertising are highly effective at long-term brand building. Within every sporting event, audiences are almost certain to feel some positive emotional charge — whether it’s about a record-breaking high jump or a tournament hole-in-one. The question becomes, what positive emotions best help brands connect with the audiences that gather for sports?

We looked at our own data to see how it correlates with the study. Employing emotional targeting and testing tools, we highlighted amazement and exhilaration as having the strongest links to long-term effectiveness across the board, and certainly when it comes to sporting events.

Amazement and exhilaration are already commonly found in sports advertising — especially within Olympics campaigns — and opportunities to leverage these marketing insights arise again as the Tokyo Games approach.

To better envision how advertisers can bring emotions into the Olympics mix, they can turn to the Super Bowl for examples.

This year, for instance, Google’s heartfelt “Loretta” commercial was the most effective spot of all the Super Bowl ads we tested. The ad was almost twice as likely to make people smile, almost four times more heart-warming and 12 times sadder than the average US ad.

And in 2019, Microsoft’s Super Bowl spot, “We All Win,” scored highest for feelings of Amazement and the NFL’s “100 Year Game” scored the highest for exhilaration. In our ranking, both of these ads came out on top as the most emotionally effective spots, with Microsoft at number one and the NFL ad at number two.

To further see these emotionally-charged techniques in action, consider the success Nike has enjoyed in long-term brand building with its “Dream Crazy” campaign. The campaign’s first spot, featuring Colin Kapernick, sparked a range of top emotional notes: inspiration (20 percent), warmth (11 percent), pride (10 percent), amazement (nine percent ) and happiness (seven percent). By using a mix of positive emotions in the ad, Nike scored above the emotional norm across all key metrics including purchase intent (plus four percent ) and shareability (plus seven percent).

Nike’s follow-up spot, “Dream Crazier”, focusing on inspirational female athletes, did even better. The campaign replicated the same emotional mix, putting even more emphasis on positivity, and scored higher across each of the five top emotions; inspiration (31 percent), pride (22 percent), happiness (17 percent ), amazement (16 percent) and warmth (12 percent). As a result, they scored even higher compared to the norm across all their key metrics, including purchase intent (plus eight percent) and shareability (plus 16 percent).

These examples highlight how a deep focus on contextually aligned emotions can create positive outcomes, especially when it comes to sports-adjacent advertising. Brands using 2020’s sporting events as a testing ground for strategies and approaches that bring emotion to audiences’ screens will have a post-season of analysis to discover what the right emotion in the right ad does for campaign results.


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