Iconic Olympic ads

Check out 10 podium-worthy spots from Games past.

Over the years, brands have put on medal-winning performances to tap into the feelings of pride and emotion the Olympics stir up in all of us. The Sochi Games will provide plenty more opportunities for advertisers to win with consumers, with the CBC planning more than 1,500 hours of coverage across its network. In the U.S., NBC Universal is promising the same amount of TV and online coverage, which Kantar Media expects will result in 5,500 minutes of TV ads.

While we enjoy current epic ads like the Canadian Olympic Committee’s #Wearewinter campaign (see last post), let’s take a look back at 10 Olympic ads that made their mark.

McDonald’s (1988)

This ad claims a Gold for cuteness, highlighting infant “future Olympians” taking baby steps toward Games glory. But aside from the “oooo” and “ahhh” factor, the QSR makes its point that it’s committed to U.S. athletes, both present and future.

IBM (1998)

Remember that time when we were impressed by an IBM commercial showing people in a remote part of Norway following the Olympics in real time via the internet?  Boy, how things change. We’re guessing those same people today are livestreaming events on their phablets. This serves as a good reminder it’s not just the athletes that have gotten faster.

John Hancock (1998)

It’s difficult to reconcile the joy and excitement in Sarajevo, Bosnia as it hosted the 1984 Olympics with the suffering and sorrow of war that followed just a few years later. This powerful spot by John Hancock and agency Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos, which ran during the 1998 Nagano Olympics, tells Sarajevo’s story through the eyes of its resilient youth who, even after tragedy, have fond memories of the Games.

Visa (2000)

For brands, sponsoring the Olympics is ultimately about the bottom line, we all know that, but advertisers usually pull out great stories to help us forget. Not Visa in this spot for the Sydney Games, which brilliantly calls out its own commercialism and receives high scores from the judges for artistic presentation of the brand’s name.

WestPac (2000)

This charming spot from Australian bank Westpac pokes a little fun at the common man while celebrating the achievement of that country’s athletes.

“This commercial says that DNA can take you far, but not as far as the Olympics,” says Glen Hunt, chief transformation officer at Cossette. “You may have what nature gave you, but it’s nurture that makes you succeed. I like the way Westpac stays quietly in the background, saying, without really saying it, ‘We support Australians in achieving their greatness.’”

Smith’s chips (2004)

Sometimes, making light of a sensitive subject produces a great result. In the run-up to the summer Games in Athens, Greece, a lot of media coverage was dedicated to whether the city would be ready to host (sound familiar?). PepsiCo-owned Smith’s chips had some fun with this worry by showing the “real” reason not everything was ready… the workers were busy snacking.

Visa (2010)

Visa has a knack for making commercials out of Games’ moments that embody the ideals of the spirit of the Olympics. This one, aired during the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, retells the story of Canadian silver medalist Sara Renner, who finished the cross-country team sprint at the 2006 Winter Olympics thanks to the kindness of an opponent. With Morgan Freeman narrating, Visa can’t ever really go wrong, but Philippe Garneau,  co-founder of GWP Brand Engineering, says this ad really stood out for him because of the pancakes-related punchline.

Nike (2012)

Nike earns a gold for best Olympic ad from a non-official sponsor for this spot showcasing athletic feats in Londons around the world. As in London, ON., London, Nigeria and London, Ohio.

“Talk about owning the Olympics without having to pay for the rings,” Hunt says. “This commercial celebrates the hero in all of us.
“The boy in the end gets all 10s for his dive as far as I’m concerned. It’s that deep-down, all-out effort that we should celebrate, not the medal count.”

P&G (2012)

 P&G’s “Thank you, mom” spot for Sochi has already amassed more than 13 million views but their commercial ahead of the 2012 Games in London laid the foundation for the CPG’s tear-jerker Olympic series.

“This spot shows us that while it may take an infinite number of man hours to get to the Olympics, it takes an infinite number of mom hours to raise the kids who get there,” Cossette’s Hunt says. “Kudos to P&G for not using the spot to sell specific products, but using it, instead, to elevate the people who buy their products. By making its presence in the commercial incidental, P&G gives the message incredible impact.”

Canadian Olympic Committee (2014)

The COC’s #Wearewinter campaign enters instant classic territory for summing up, in epic fashion, this country’s courageous connection to winter and how it empowers our athletes. After all, who else but a Canadian Olympian would expose their shins or head to the bitter cold?