Are you an Olympics fan? Are we in the Circle of Trust where I can be honest? I’ve never been one. Gasp! I know. But before you judge me too hard, yes, I’m patriotic, and yes, I think the athletes are insanely talented and driven and exemplify so many qualities that help make the world a better place. But I’ve never made it a priority to watch a significant portion of any Olympics games. Why? Sports.


I’ve never really loved watching any sports; I’d stick my nose in a book over watching a Super Bowl, Stanley Cup, or World Cup game. But this year, something happened. Maybe it was that there’s a giant TV mounted on the wall right near my desk, so for the past few weeks my coworkers and I have been “working” while admiring the mind-blowing fitness and finesse of the world’s top athletes. I mean, seriously. Wow.

Maybe it’s also the power of the stories that have surrounded, and been created by, these Games. Whether we’re talking commercials by some top brands, fan-generated content, or actual footage from the competitions, the 2016 Olympics have been a treasure trove of inspiration, lessons, and fun.

With the Closing Ceremony happening this Sunday, let’s take a look back and discover 10 things we, as marketers looking to craft stories, engage audiences, and win customers, can learn from some of this year’s Olympics videos:  

(Or, at a bare minimum, let’s just sit back and enjoy some awesome videos!)

Lesson #1: The heartstrings are always ready to be pulled

It’s not just about who crosses the finish line first—every athlete came from somewhere, worked hard, failed, triumphed, loved and missed their families. Proctor and Gamble knows that love is a universal, relatable message, and it attracts audiences almost like nothing else. For at least a few years the company has touched the hearts and jerked the tears of many with their ‘Proud sponsor of moms’ campaign. Check out athletes receiving and appreciating the support of their moms.

Every time I see one of these campaign videos, I’m touched. But personally, as a viewer part of me wishes the message was more inclusive: what about all the fathers? Aren’t children (and the athletes) raised, loved, and supported by paternal figures as well? As a marketer I thought, just because something works doesn’t mean it can’t be better. About five minutes later, it was like Minute Maid heard me when I came across this video:

Maybe it’s shrewd marketing, and building on the success of the P&G campaign, but it worked on me!

Lesson #2: Tailor your story to your personas

Any marketer knows, marketing isn’t one-size-fits-all. So even if you create a powerful story, that doesn’t mean everyone is going to be touched by it.

Take Proctor and Gamble. The company is huge, owning many brands like cleaning products, beauty products, laundry and dish soaps, feminine products, baby products…the list goes on. Many of P&G’s products are focused in the ‘domestic’ realm, which traditionally is still seen as women’s realm. Which would explain why P&G’s overarching Olympics campaign (referenced in Lesson #1) is focused on mothers and love—so feminine and sensitive, right?

Contrast that directly with Gillette, another of P&G’s brands, that has a tagline of ‘Gillette…the best a man can get’. The company didn’t run the same ‘Mom’ campaign and tack Gillette branding at the end of it. Instead, a new video was created that appeals to traditionally masculine qualities: adversity, bravery, fighting, winning, standing on one’s own and not needing support:

Pretty different, right? It feels almost vicious and gruesome (feral dogs and vomiting, anyone?) in comparison. The suggestion seems to be that these manly athletes are driven by internal forces, rather than externally by their support system in the ‘Mom’ campaign. Same company, very different messaging and approach. No matter what you think of the ads, it’s undeniable that P&G is definitely working hard to connect with their unique audiences instead of serving them the same.

Lesson #3: Even when your product can’t relate, your brand can

You know what I think of when I think of athletes dedicating their whole lives to physical prowess and achievements? Why, junk food, of course.

When something big is happening in the world, we as marketers don’t want to miss out. But what if our product doesn’t at all fit into the story? That’s where we can think about our brand, who we are and what we stand for. Even if you’re Coca-Cola, and your product is an unhealthy soft drink that offers no nutritional value, you can still use positive brand themes, like friendship, and making lifelong memories, to get into the game…or, should I say, the Games (see what I did there?).

Hershey’s takes a similar approach. As much as we (or I) looove chocolate, it’s hard to imagine athletes binge-eating the sweet treat, so how can it join in the narrative of the Olympics? Well, chocolate makes us happy, we share it with the ones we love, right? And happiness is universally sought after and cherished. With the tagline, ‘Hello Happy. Hello Hershey’s”, the company can easily get in the game.

Lesson #4: Think beyond the big moment to how your message will last

You know what’s amazing? Brands, messages, and stories that have staying power. It’s one thing to jump in the game and try to get your voice heard over the din when something big is happening. But some of the most provocative and impactful stories happen when marketers (or the story’s creators) think about the bigger picture.

Take Always, for example. The brand represents feminine pads. It could make a video about how it protects female athletes during the games. Which sure, is important. But is that the biggest, most impactful story the brand could tell? How about this one, instead, that was featured during this year’s Olympics:

It’s true that the Olympics host men and women athletes, show off their strength and skills, and recognize both sexes for their achievements. But the Olympics may not be a true reflection of everyday life, where the phrase “You throw [or do anything] like a girl” is typically still used as an insult.

The beauty of this ad is it suggests how strong, powerful and courageous female Olympic athletes are, but also, how important it is for all girls and women to recognize and embrace their strength, because that’s when women can achieve incredible things. The ad goes beyond the big moment to impact the future…so maybe we’ll see even more brave and strong women trying to compete for future Olympics.

Another incredible example of a lasting message is this story.

It wasn’t the only marriage proposal at the 2016 Games, but it was the first gay proposal. Which, as noted in the video, is not widely accepted in Brazil. But this woman felt empowered by the strength and safety of the Olympics to go after her dreams, and maybe shape and change some viewpoints along the way. No matter how you feel about the topic, this story will definitely have lasting power long after the Closing Ceremony.

Lesson #5: Authenticity never gets old

Probably one of the most popular and talked about videos I’ve come across from this year’s Olympics is this video.

Why? For one, it shows a different side of the Olympics, of sportsmanship. It’s not always about competition and fight and getting to the finish line first. Being a strong person can also mean being brave enough to have compassion for each other, and help each other through hard and painful times.

But I think what caused people to embrace this video so much is its authenticity. It was a real, honest moment, not a brand setting up cameras and controlling the moment, telling actors to act a certain way to pull heartstrings. This video proves that if you want true intimacy with your audience, if you want to be remembered, be genuine. Be authentic, because we can never get enough of that.

Lesson #6: You can always change perceptions and redefine yourself

The Mini is, well, mini. It’s a little car. But is that all it is? Brands, products, people…we are not all one thing.

The Mini can be small and powerful. We may be perceived as one thing but this video is a perfect example that if you work hard enough, you don’t have to be defined by simplistic labels. That’s a powerful message for brands to keep in mind as goals shift, product lines change, and audiences evolve.

That may sound like a lot of work, but that’s okay because you should…

Lesson #7: Always set yourself new challenges

Unless you live under a rock, you know who Olympic runner Usain Bolt is. Even I knew who he is. The guy is so fast, I wish I was that fast so I could give new meaning to the phrase ‘running errands’. Think how much time you’d save!

When you’re this fast, what is there left to do? Who is there left to beat? If you’re already the fastest person in the world, should you just stop, chill out, and take a nap? According to Bolt (and Nissan), no way.

Just because you’re a world record holder doesn’t mean there isn’t a fresh challenge you can set yourself. And if you’re a marketer, well, same goes. Maybe don’t try to outrun fire, but don’t rest just because you’ve gotten great results. What could you do better? If you’re the best in one pond, maybe find a bigger, tougher pond. Stay on your toes, keep pushing yourself, and keep learning. Thanks for the tip, Usain.

Lesson #8: Inspire your audience, but not at the expense of facts

It’s tempting to craft an incredible story, to position yourself as the best of the very best. Tennis player and gold medal winner Andy Murray was given the opportunity to do just that by a BBC reporter:

He did win the gold medal, which is an incredible achievement, but the reporter tried to elevate the tennis player’s status and achievements to make him a greater hero and legend. Incredibly and admirably, Murray didn’t take the bait. He set the record straight and likely won even more hearts in doing so.

It doesn’t matter that Andy Murray hasn’t won the most gold medals; what matters to the audience is he’s inspirational and truthful. That’s a powerful combination, and a lesson that all marketers should keep in mind as we craft stories and consider how to position our products and services. Keep the facts in mind, because the truth will only help strengthen your audience’s loyalty.

Lesson #9: Love what you do

So many Olympics videos, and the games themselves, show the blood, sweat, and tears that go into pushing yourself and your body to achieve such a high level of greatness. It looks like such hard work, why is it worth it?

Oh, that’s right. Because these athletes truly love what they do:

The video doesn’t show their coaches, their families, their competitors. It illustrates all the work it takes to be a top athlete, but the video is also full of light-heartedness and ignites a feeling of childlike wonder. What drives the athletes is the passion they felt as kids: the desire to learn, to go further, to see what’s possible and discover the impossible. We all probably remember those feelings from when we were kids. There were things that we loved to do that maybe we couldn’t make careers of when we grew up, but it’s a reminder to rediscover that passion in what we do for a living now, because you can only be great at what you do if you love it.

Want to feel more inspired? Watch this video, or even close your eyes and listen to the audio. Chobani was talking about the Olympic athletes of course, but you can just as easily imagine that it’s a commercial for marketers.

Lesson #10: Don’t forget to just have fun

Life should be fun, right? Even the parts that require a lot of hard work. Even the goals that feel really serious and impactful. The journey to get there can be fun, no matter if you’re failing and learning from those failures, or reaching gold every time. Like this video from Reese that helps take some of the serious out of the Games:

Or this video, created by an Olympics fan who turned the green waters of the Olympic diving pool into a green screen for video editing. Because maybe we don’t need to get serious about how green it is. There’s fun to be had in spite of—and even because of—the obstacles we encounter.

So remember, take every day as an opportunity, and don’t forget to smile!

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It was really hard to narrow down the list of the best Olympics videos to talk about in this post. What was your favorite, from this post or from your own viewing of this year’s games? Tell me in the comments!

Emily Ross