SBJ/March 10-16, 2014/Olympics

Sponsors focusing ads on Paralympians

Three advertisers this weekend released new creative featuring Paralympians to coincide with their sponsorship of the first live broadcasts of a Paralympic Games on NBC in the U.S.

Citi, Hartford and P&G all developed spots designed to support their sponsorship of NBC’s and the U.S. Olympic Committee’s joint coverage of the Sochi Paralympic Games. The spots tell the stories of athletes with disabilities who overcome adversity through dedication and effort to compete at the highest level of their sport. It’s the latest evidence of corporate America embracing these more obscure athletes and using their rich and compelling stories to strengthen good will around their brands.

The other sponsors of the broadcast — BMW, Liberty Mutual and BP — are running spots that ran during the Olympic Games and are complemented by digital and print marketing
materials featuring Paralympian endorsers.

The advertisements, sponsorships and broadcast of the Sochi Paralympic Games highlight the rising corporate interest and support of the Paralympics in the U.S. Olympic sponsors have been incorporating Paralympians into their marketing materials since the early 2000s, and several, including Citi and Coca-Cola, developed Paralympic-specific ads for the London Games. But the Sochi Paralympics marks the first time USOC sponsors have agreed to underwrite live coverage of a Paralympics and developed specific creative to support the broadcast.

“We see this as a watershed moment,” USOC chief marketer Lisa Baird said. “We see the growth of the Paralympic advertising as another important platform that will grow the awareness, understanding, appeal and embrace of the Paralympic movement in the U.S.”

NBC and the USOC declined to share financial terms of the Sochi Paralympic Games broadcast sponsorships, but Olympic sources valued it in the mid-six figures per sponsor.

The six sponsors will have ads run across NBC, NBC Sports Network and TeamUSA.org. NBC and NBCSN are offering 27 hours of live coverage March 7-15, and TeamUSA.org will stream all 72 medal events.

The broadcast came together after several USOC sponsors, including Citi and Liberty Mutual, met with the USOC and NBC after the London Games and expressed interest in having the Paralympics broadcast live in the U.S. The London Paralympics were shown live by Channel 4 in the U.K. and averaged 7.6 million viewers, but NBC offered only a 5 1/2-hour retrospective on the event.

“Going to London and hearing how well the Paralympics were received, it seemed like there was a missed opportunity to make sure the broadest number of people could see it,” said Paul Alexander, Liberty Mutual’s senior vice president of communications. “For us, it was less of a pure brand play, and more the right thing to do.”

The six sponsors of the Paralympic broadcast aren’t the only ones that developed Paralympic-specific advertisements. AT&T and United developed creative featuring Paralympians that aired on NBC during the Sochi Games, and Samsung developed an ad that’s airing on CNBC and CNN that shows Paralympians from around the world training before the slogan “Sport Doesn’t Care.”

While the success of the London Paralympics plays a significant role in those advertisers’ rising interest in the Paralympics, the push also follows the conclusion of a decade in which the U.S. was at war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many soldiers wounded in those conflicts have taken up Paralympic sports since returning, and 18 of the 80 U.S. Paralympians are military veterans. Citi chose one of those veterans, Rico Roman, a sled hockey player who lost a leg in Iraq, to feature in its advertising.

“A number of these athletes in the Paralympic U.S. team are there not just through their own determination, but they have suffered injuries that allowed them to explore their competitive nature,” said Dermot Boden, Citi’s chief brand officer. “A lot of them are former heroes that have served the country. … To be in some small way a supporter and engaged with such human beings is very consistent with what we’re trying to do as a brand.”

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