Advertising’s Olympic moment: The “new possible” that comes with data-driven, real time ads

Posted by Glenn Pingul on August 20th, 2012 at 1:54 pm

As the Olympic flame makes its way to Rio from London, it’s time to reflect on these amazing London games.

What’s great about the Olympics is that it is the only sporting event that is made up of hundreds of amazing “moments”, each that become personal for viewers whether by country, event or athlete.

For some, it was…

  • Gabby Douglas giving her coach a hug after becoming the first African American to win the all-around in gymnastics

Or, maybe it was…

  • Michael Phelps biffing (taking 4th ) in his first event but still walking away winning 4 gold and 2 silver medals to become the all-time Olympic record holder with 22 medals

Or, maybe it was when…

  • Kirani James from Grenada exchanged his name tag with Oscar Pistorius of South Africa, the first Para-Olympian to ever compete in the Olympics, right after James won the gold medal in the 400 meters

Or finally for others (say the more cynical) it was…

  • In badminton (love that as an Olympic event) where the #1 team in the world from China was disqualified for trying to throw their match so they could play a weaker team in the next round

All of those Olympic moments were amazing.   For me, however, being more a marketer than an Olympic caliber athlete (refer to my last post as reference), it was the Olympic advertising moments that were amazing!

The Super Bowl gets all the advertising hype but the Olympic Games are like the Super Bowl on steroids (okay, bad pun) with over 3,500 hours of streaming coverage generating nearly $1.2 B in advertising.

So what was the Olympic moment for advertising?

Was it the epic BBC 3D animated mini-movie commercial where animated athletes swim, dive, box, throw the javelin and of course run really fast, with the back drop of London buildings and landscapes of the English waterways and country side, all to an orchestral musical score that even composer John Williams would be proud of?

Or maybe it was the classic “shot (soccer) heard round the world” commercial for Samsung Galaxy where David Beckham drills a soccer ball into a ginormous gong being pulled by a truck from about 300 yards away that triggers people from around the world playing street sports while others video them on their, what else, Samsung phones.

Nope.  It wasn’t even the heartwarming Procter & Gamble ads with vignettes of little kids being woken up by mom early, early (did I say early?) in the morning to make their little darlings breakfast, then drive them to the pool, gym, track or court (badminton court for the cynical) where mom sits in attendance, then cuts away to a shot of a now grown up athlete competing at the Olympics with mom in the stands.  Tears flow.  For all the moms in the world, the tag read: “Thank you, mom.”

These are all great ads – ads that focus on the people that made the athletes great or on connecting people from around the world.  These ads take viewers away, suspending time and place.  The real Olympic advertising moment, however, didn’t take viewers away, it kept them right in the here and now.

The real advertising moment of the Olympics was the AT&T commercials.  These ads took actual footage and results from events as they JUST happened and seamlessly inserted them into pre-produced commercials.   The “shock and aw” part was that they aired these spots in the commercial pod shortly (within hours) after viewers saw the live event.  And in some cases, like in Seattle, the ads aired immediately after the actual event.

The commercials are called “real time” ads.  There were six AT&T ads produced in all.   From Ryan Lochte winning gold in the 400 IM to Sanya Richards-Ross winning the 400 meter dash, the ads celebrated events of the games just after the event happened.

This was my experience.  I am sitting at home watching the woman’s 200 meter breaststroke.  As expected, Rebecca Soni wins the race but in the process breaks the 2 minute 20 second barrier by 1 second.   NBC cuts to a commercial.  A teenage girl is walking into her house.  She drops off her bag.  She’s focused on her smartphone and you can tell she’s watching a video.   Camera pans down to her screen and you see’s watching a swim race.  You notice her hair is wet.  Camera zooms into the screen and both audio and video tell you it was the 200 meter breaststroke you just saw.  You hear the announcer say Soni breaks the world record.  Then the kid walks up to a whiteboard in her kitchen and writes “Goals: 2:19.59.”

I recall when I worked at Saatchi and Saatchi in NY, the process to create a 30 second television spot was akin to planning a wedding.  It took months to develop (and approve) the creative concept, months to map out the production schedule, and weeks to set up, shoot, edit the commercial and traffic it for airing.

Dubbed “Here’s the new possible” this marketing campaign showed the power of messaging in context, delivering 100% relevance and doing it in real time.

Much like Usain Bolt breaking the world record in the 100 meters, AT&T’s ads are a breakthrough for marketers.  The ability to offer real time broadcast advertising that is hyper-relevant is huge.   And it was based on leveraging data.

AT&T did a longitudinal analysis of both the athletes and historical performance in that event.

They knew an ad featuring one of the athletes competing in an event at a scheduled time was a critical longitudinal piece of behavioral data that they could use to then highlight that same athlete in their advertising at a later context – right after the scheduled event.    They then took other data points, like which athletes were most likely to make the finals, their historical performance times, and predicted the likelihood of who would win and if they could beat the world record.

In short, data on athletes’ prior behavior (personal bests) was used to predict future behavior (gold medal winner). They prepared for all the possibilities based on the most probable outcomes: 1) Male or female?  2) Potential winning athlete?  3) Likely times?   4) World or Olympic record?

They then developed templates to splice into the ads based on those probabilities.  And finally they purchased the commercial pod right after the event they created the commercial for so they could run the ad with that exact athlete and their performance.  (And depending on your time zone and tape delay you could see that ad as close to under a minute of when the event aired!)

The AT&T ads illustrate that the world of advertising (and marketing) is changing.  Data combined with prediction and capabilities that create multi-variant options to create 100% relevant communications that are delivered in context is happening.   And this is just the beginning.

Just as the Olympic flame has been passed from London to Rio, the marketing torch has been passed from the mass market campaigns based on gut and feel for “mom’s around the world” to ones based on contextually relevant targeting driven by big data, longitudinal analysis and expedited delivery.

It’s time for more Olympic marketing moments like the one brought to us by AT&T where marketing is hyper-relevant and personal.

To steal AT&T’s line, it’s time for “the new possible.”

Let the games begin.

One Response to “Advertising’s Olympic moment: The “new possible” that comes with data-driven, real time ads”

  1. Vin says:


    Some day I'll let you in on how it was all done!


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