Group Created with Sketch.
Volume 22 No. 7


Toyota and Bridgestone were the Olympic sponsors that improved their standing the most with consumers during the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, according to a study by Turnkey Sports and SportsBusiness Journal.


In interviews both before and after the Feb. 9-25 Games, Turnkey asked consumers to give their opinions on 74 consumer-facing sponsor brands (including 12 Olympic sponsors), asking them if they knew which companies had exclusive marketing rights with the Olympics, whether global or domestic, and if they’d consider buying their product.


In its first year as an Olympic sponsor, Toyota saw the biggest jump in respondents who were able to identify it as the International Olympic Committee partner, up 8 points from before the Games to 40 percent afterward, a much bigger jump than any other brand studied. The survey did not ask respondents how they engaged with the brands, but with few Americans on site in South Korea, the results largely reflect the effectiveness of paid media.


Toyota’s Olympic message, its first global coordinated campaign, took the unusual tack of not mentioning its automobiles. Instead, its “Start Your Impossible” series of TV ads, which ran in heavy rotation throughout the Games on NBC, promoted products designed to help the elderly and the disabled navigate their lives independently.


How It Was Done

Turnkey surveyed 400 people on two separate occasions, Jan. 25-30 and then after the Games, March 1-10. All respondents described themselves as at least “casual” fans of the Winter Olympics and planned to watch or actually did watch at least 15 minutes of coverage per day and check results at least weekly. The margin of error was plus/minus 4 percent.

“It was very aspirational, and that was very unique,” said Tim McGhee, senior vice president of CSE and a veteran sports marketing consultant. “Because how many carmakers would put that sort of media weight into a campaign where the car isn’t the hero of the spots? I think that’s part of what did give it life, that people were paying attention to it.”


Toyota was the largest ad buyer of the Games, spending $115.6 million and airing 804 commercials, including 171 prime-time spots, according to an SBJ analysis of data. Chevrolet was the second-largest spender with $99 million in paid media.


Toyota also saw a boost of 4 percentage points in those who said they’d consider buying from the company. Bridgestone, in its second Olympics as an IOC global sponsor, led the pack in increasing buying intention along with Liberty Mutual, a USOC sponsor. Both saw 7-point gains in respondents who said they’d consider buying their products — Bridgestone up to 48 percent and Liberty Mutual up to 31 percent.


Bridgestone and Liberty Mutual’s gains came even though they weren’t among the major ad buyers. Liberty Mutual did not advertise at all in the Games, and Bridgestone spent $5 million for two unique spots, which ran 77 times (only twice on prime time), according to


Bridgestone used the snow-and-ice themes of the winter sports to push its winter tire lines, tying Olympians and tires together with a “clutch performance” campaign. Phil Pacsi, vice president of sports and events marketing, said the company “worked hard to break through and engage people with unique television creative, dynamic digital and social media,” retail promotions and work with athletes.


Other notable findings included:


By large margins, longtime Olympic sponsors Coca-Cola and Visa are the brands best associated with the Games, even if their numbers didn’t change much this year; 64 percent of the public correctly identified Coca-Cola, down 4 percentage points from before the Games, and 60 percent got Visa correct, up 3 percentage points from before the Games. No other sponsor cleared 50 percent in customer recognition. Both Coke and Visa also saw modest gains in purchase intent.


About four out of nine respondents said they consciously support brands known as Team USA sponsors, but Turnkey said that’s about 10 percentage points lower than other major sports properties in the U.S.


The U.S. Olympic Committee is more likely to be deemed “trustworthy” (78 percent) than the NCAA (71 percent), the IOC (66 percent) and FIFA (65 percent), but less likely than traditional stick-and-ball sports, which all rate over 90 percent, Turnkey said.


American success is a key factor in how fans view the individual sports of the Olympics. Before the Games, 63 percent said they were looking forward to figure skating, the highest of any sport. But after U.S. figure skaters won just two bronze medals, the number of fans interviewed after the Games who reported enjoying figure skating dropped to 57 percent — two points lower than snowboarding, in which Americans won seven medals. Snowboarding clearly benefited from the Winter Games, as before Pyeongchang, only 46 percent said they anticipated snowboarding.


Eighteen percent of respondents said they were “less interested” in the Winter Olympics because of the lack of NHL players; 78 percent said it had no difference or made them more interested.