SBJ/December 10 - 16, 2001/Marketingsponsorship

Olympic ads pitch young adults

On its way to Salt Lake City, NBC is unleashing a barrage of advertising, representing on the order of $75 million in airtime. It is using a healthy mix of traditional on-air promotional approaches with some innovative new tactics that speak to a deep understanding of its audience.

NBC's advertising is done by its in-house agency, the NBC Agency. Best known as the folks who created "Must See TV," the NBC Agency has created a strategically powerful, multifaceted approach based on the following audience insight: If you are in your mid-30s, your reverence for the Olympics means you are certain to be in front of your TV for 17 nights in February — and you'll probably bring your kids with you; if you are 18-34, the Olympics is just another really special event.

NBC's Olympic advertising campaign is anchored by a series of young-adult-focused 20- and 30-second spots. They highlight some of America's hot young Olympians from a range of more extreme Winter Games sports, including bobsledders, downhillers and skeletoners (essentially face-forward 80-mph lugers).

Most interesting is a 90-second movie-trailer-style commercial NBC created to be shown in theaters and on late-night programming. Reminiscent of this year's spectacular BMW Films series, the spot will be seen at 4,000 theaters in more than 25 markets beginning in January.

Featuring telegenic star Olympic snowboarder Chris Klug, the spot tracks Klug on a comedic hair-raising downhill adventure. It starts innocently with some extreme high-mountain boarding, but as Klug jumps over an access road, he sets off the radar gun of a cop, and the real escapade ensues. Cars, snowmobiles and law enforcement helicopters set out in pursuit.

As Klug continues undaunted, he catches the eye of a lovely female bystander. In his distraction, he boards through a wall of glass, right into the U.S. Olympic Training Center's hockey facility, where U.S. women's star Cammi Granato helps set Klug free from his pursuers with a solid check. Klug boards out of the facility and stops to reconnect with the woman he saw earlier on the mountain. He invites her to see him (in February in Salt Lake City), handing her an Olympic rings-emblazoned hockey puck. And as the pursuing mob, which has now grown to include Krishnas, a Zamboni and a grizzly bear, closes in, Klug tethers himself to a friendly helicopter hovering above him.

The commercial ends as the copter spirits him away, leaving the words: "How's my boarding? Hotsnow" visible on the bottom of his snowboard.

Surprisingly, there is no NBC identification of any kind.

In addition to being a tautly produced, highly involving blast of a spot, it is also a neat example of corporate synergy. The spot's hard-core music track (though interrupted brilliantly for a few seconds of Dean Martin's "Ain't That a Kick in the Head" during Klug's romantic interlude) is "Fear Me," the first single from the new British band Sulpher, which happens to be the first band signed to NBC's new music label.

A spot as expensive as this (about $850,000) was beyond the means of NBC Sports' promotional budget, so the network did some aggressive business development. It worked co-op marketing deals with Columbia/Tri-Star Pictures, Universal Studios, Eastman Kodak and Microsoft to help offset its costs and extend the reach of the trailer.

Most noticeable, to the detriment of the communication of the spot, are the movie tie-ins. In the spot, Klug boards by two huge billboards: one outdoor advertising sign on the mountain and another featured on the boards of the Olympic training hockey arena. In the cinema and late-night versions, these billboards loudly tout the rerelease of Universal's classic "E.T." The same billboards will support Columbia/Tri-Star films in the home video release of some of their coming properties.

The Microsoft tie-in is the link to Hotsnow, a slick Microsoft-produced Web site that is affiliated with the NBC Olympics Web site.

While debatable, leaving the NBC Olympic logo off the end of the spot in order to better connect with cynical young adults is a mistake. First, the spot is good enough to overcome the "taint" of commercialism. Second, leaving the NBC logo off while blatantly featuring overt movie messaging is downright confusing.

If there is any other weakness to the commercial, it is that cutting down the outstanding 90-second cinema version into a series of five 30-second spots for late-night TV will dilute the experience for the millions of people who might otherwise be blown away by seeing the ad in its entirety in theaters in January. But we'll reserve judgment until the spots hit the air this month.

James H. Harris ( is CEO of the Chicago-based strategic marketing consultancy ThoughtStep Inc.

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