The 2021 Olympics: A Case Study in Pivoting Marketing Strategy

Prior to the 2021 Summer Olympics, there were over $1 billion in commitments to advertise during the 7,000 hours of coverage on NBC and Peacock streaming service. Streaming and digital advertising are on the rise this year as part of this total spending.

With the unpopularity among Japanese citizens to hold the games and lack of spectators in the stands, it is not the energetic event we are all accustomed to. The talks of canceling the more than $15 billion event did not help with advertiser confidence.

“The Olympics are already damaged goods,” said Jules Boykoff, a former Olympic soccer player and an expert in sports politics at Pacific University. Additionally, the advertising opportunities have been limited with the lack of in-person events and promotions.

NBC paid over $7.5 billion for exclusive rights to coverage through 2032 with the intent of making it up through the 140+ sponsors. These now-nervous companies had already produced ads featuring athletes and feel-good stories — some even changing their campaigns from the originals after the postponement from 2020. A lot were scrambling last-minute to adapt to the unexpected global situation.

Early ratings for NBCU’s TV broadcasts are “clearly are not what NBC, our agency or our clients were looking for,” said one media buying executive. This buyer cited a lack of must-follow athlete storylines early in the competition; early-morning availability of coverage via streaming; and the absence of live fans at the Games due to the coronavirus pandemic as factors in a downturn of viewing. This executive said early viewership trends were “disappointing.”

Using data from this year’s Olympic Games will be crucial in advertiser decisions for the 2022 Winter Games — especially on the growing streaming and digital platforms. Although it is likely the event will be an anomaly as well due to the surrounding controversy in Hong Kong.

This is an interesting and evolving case study that we can learn from. Last-minute pivots to messaging are something we at Jet have certainly grown accustomed to, and we are fortunate that we can be nimble enough to do this successfully for our clients. We continuously learn from data — both anecdotal and quantitative to improve campaign efficiency. Willingness to scrap an idea or save it for later is key in the ever-changing landscape we are in, and it never hurts to have a backup plan!


Katie O’Hara, Project Manager

Katie loves the challenge of finding ways to help clients stand out in a crowded world. She believes that finding inspiration in unlikely places is the key to great ideas.

2021-08-02T14:12:56+00:00August 2nd, 2021|