Olympics postponed, but opportunities for marketers wide open

"On its face, there are no direct substitutes for the Olympics; however..."

In years when they run, the Olympics have long been central to many of the world’s largest marketers’ annual business goals. They provide an over-arching backdrop that supports product launches and underlines efforts to improve brand positioning.

The postponement of the Olympics, while unsurprising at this stage of the coronavirus crisis, is still a challenge that many of those marketers will be looking to manage around.

While some of its sponsors will welcome the financial flexibility the postponement is implicitly offering, others will want to find other ways to continue pursuing this year’s goals in the current calendar year. On its face, there are no direct substitutes for the Olympics; however, for those who are looking to proceed with the pursuit of their business goals during this calendar year, differing business objectives should lead to differing substitutes. 

To the extent that advertisers want comparable tentpole events for their campaigns, assuming a relevant country is "back to normal" by the summer, marketers should never think they lack alternatives to work with. Individual brands could spend $100 million per Olympics on a sponsorship and spend just as much on an associated media campaign. Budgets of this scale can surely support impactful alternatives, especially if related investments include deep assessments of consumer insights, creative messaging and content development along with clever implementation.

Alternately, sponsorship of new and different – and potentially very localized – events could serve as partial substitutes individually, but collectively represent a comprehensive replacement for the year. Brands could also look to invest heavily in "owned" media involving original content, although perhaps produced with creatively considered social distancing in that content.

Failing these options, marketers can still look to capitalize on alternative sources of inventory from other media owners. In a world where consumers are increasing their time at home, reaching those consumers on traditional television or ad-supported services will be relatively easier than might have been true in prior years.

The loss of the Olympics is an unfortunate event during what will turn out to be an unfortunate year for many. However, just as many of the new practices that people are adopting have their upsides – more time with family, for one – the creativity that marketers need in finding alternatives to the Olympics should hopefully lead to new ways to impactfully engage with consumers.

Brian Wieser is global president of business intelligence at GroupM.

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