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Winning Gold At The Rio Olympics: 5 Mandates For Digital Marketers

Millions of people use social media to talk about international events like the Olympics. During the 2014 Winter Games, people created more than 72,000 Sochi-related tweets per minute and mentioned the Olympics in 120 million posts and comments on Facebook. Paid social campaigns present marketers with the opportunity to achieve brand impact by reaching large, qualified and highly engaged audiences. The following are five mandates for making the most of your Olympics campaign on social.

1. Understand the landscape

During the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, SocialCode clients experienced a 15 percent increase in CPMs on Facebook compared to the Q1 2014 average. For contrast, CPMs during the 2014 Super Bowl rose nearly 50 percent compared to the Q1 2014 average. This means that Olympics marketers can serve their media to large audiences without paying the highly inflated prices often seen during shorter events such as the Super Bowl.


2. Map a learning agenda

Whether driving online sales or increasing brand favorability, marketers should identify what questions about their business (i.e. creative elements or top-performing audiences) they would like to answer before running paid media. Marketers need lead time to implement tools like conversion pixels or Brand Effect measurement, ensuring the answers to those questions are based on the best measurement data and real business results.

To highlight why this is so important, look to Budweiser’s Super Bowl campaigns over the last several years. In 2014, the brand first introduced “Puppy Love,” a heartwarming spot about the relationship between a puppy and a Clydesdale. The spot was popular and metrics like earned media and cost per engagement led the brand to bring the puppy back for a repeat performance in 2015. However, the brand decided to attach an offline-sales study to its 2015 campaign and found that while the puppy was great for virality, the spot was not moving product off the shelf. This highlights why the brand pivoted in 2016 to a product-forward “macrobrew” message.

3. Activate a mobile-first strategy

During the Sochi Olympics, SocialCode served impressions across mobile and desktop, with budgets shifting fluidly across placements depending on performance on a given day.

SocialCode observed 90 percent of ads were served to mobile, thanks to people accessing the platform from their phones more frequently. Facebook reports that 52 percent of Facebook users now access the platform exclusively from a mobile device, indicating this trend will extend to this year’s games.

4. Manage performance in real-time

Maintain fluid budgets: Social campaigns show quickly what content and audience combinations perform best. Take advantage of these insights by keeping budgets fluid and allocating them to audiences, creative and placement combinations that drive the most lift.

Seize big moments: Approach creative with a “planned real-time” strategy, preparing authentic, on-brand creatives that speak to different outcomes.  

5. Apply creative best practices

Patriotic creative stays relevant throughout the event: Tap into patriotic fervor during the Olympics. Patriotic content pairing the U.S. flag with a winning U.S. athlete drove 5x more Facebook engagements at a rate 3x more efficient than industry benchmarks during Sochi.

Deploy athlete-specific creative: People learn about and develop affinity for athletes as games unfold. Marketers should tap into fan emotions in context to athlete performance, especially  during climatic events like big wins or comebacks.

Test local against global creative: Creatives featuring local athletes and targeted at local markets drove 11x more engagement at a rate 4x more efficient than industry benchmarks on Facebook. However, some creatives with universal appeal (i.e. children with Olympic aspirations) also performed well.  Marketers should test these variations as the games progress and focus budget where it will work hardest.

Scoring with video: Six-second video tweets during another long-term and high-profile sporting event — March Madness — achieved a video completion rate 39 percent higher at a cost per video view 3x more efficient than longer video tweets. During Sochi, six-second video ads were 4x more engaging and achieved an average cost per video view 2x more efficient than longer videos. It is best to prepare videos with subtitles and brand overlays since 85 percent of video on Facebook is viewed without sound.

Testing new units: When considering how to use your Olympics campaign to not only maximize awareness but also drive action, marketers should test different types of creatives such as Facebook’s video carousel unit. During Thanksgiving, video carousel ads drove 4x higher RoAS than photo-only carousel ads for a major retail client.

Aggregating campaign learnings: Your Olympics activation doesn’t end at Closing Ceremony. Marketers should use the trove of audience and creative insights yielded during the Olympics to inform overall brand strategy on social and even beyond digital. For example, if your brand observes that ads served to Hispanic audiences drove the best results on Facebook during the Olympics, you can apply that finding to your overall TV buying strategy, moving budgets from a major network like CBS to more Hispanic-focused channels like Telemundo.


SocialCode is a technology and insights company that manages digital advertising for the world’s leading consumer brands. SocialCode decodes human needs to deliver actionable insights from consumer data on advertising platforms like Facebook®, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest. SocialCode is the only major social marketing platform that combines automation with a strategic services group. That’s why marketers like AB InBev, Nestle, Capital One, Reckitt Benckiser and Visa trust SocialCode to know what to do now and what to do next. Visit SocialCode.com to learn more.

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  • Diana Gonimah, Content Strategy Associate

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