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Inside, brands like Powerade, Reese’s and Old El Paso’s play Olympic and Paralympic influencers

The Olympics don’t start until the last week of July, but brands hoping to bask in the glow of the Olympic torch have already begun campaign efforts. And as the Paris Games draw closer, partnerships with competitive athletes will become an increasingly important part of the brand arsenal.

Despite strict regulations around advertising and brand partnerships, marketers and specialist agencies have worked to carefully select rosters of Olympians in the hope of piggybacking on their rare organic reach in the lead-up to and during the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

For example, last September Samsung began sponsoring the governing body for skateboarding in Britain (imaginatively titled Skateboarding UK). The brand hopes to capitalize on both the novelty of the sport, only a recent addition to the Olympics, and the profile of skateboarder Sky Brown.

Powerade works with dozens of athletes in 30 different markets, including Chilean paraswimmer Alberto Abarza, French cyclist Mathilde Gros and American champion gymnast Simone Biles. The selection is by far the largest group of athletes the sports drink brand has involved in an Olympic campaign, said Matrona Filippou, president, global Category of tea, coffee, sports and hydration at The Coca-Cola Company.

“This is the first time we’ve involved athletes in this way,” she said. The campaign will include a traditional TV spot starring Biles, but will also utilize the athletes’ own social channels; Abarza and Gros each have a regular presence on Instagram, while Biles also has a significant TikTok following. Influencer activity involving these athletes will increase in frequency as the competitions get closer, Filippou said.

Joe Weston, head of sports at influencer and social agency We Are Social, told Digiday that “athletes benefit from organic reach that brand channels can’t have,” and that advertisers would likely get greater reach by spending budget on boosting posts . by their athlete partners than purchasing paid social inventory starring the same stars. By putting paid spend “behind the athlete channel and not behind your brand channel, you are adding fuel to the fire,” he said.

However, choosing the right athletes is the key to making that idea a reality. For some advertisers, selection is a fairly simple matter of matching key markets with crowd-favorite events and athletes who have already built a presence on social platforms.

We Are Social customer Adidas has teamed up with US track and field athlete Noah Lyles, a partnership that Weston said was in a “good place,” combining public awareness, creative potential and media placement.

“He is among the elite of their sport, which has a very good chance of breaking a world record (and) he is also hugely charismatic and sociable,” said Weston.

Other brands use different reasoning. Filippou said Powerade has chosen athletes who have experienced a comeback moment during their careers, to better fit its “Pause is Power” positioning (the brand is also promoting limited availability of the “gold” version of Powerade, which features a mango flavour). Chief among them is Biles, who took a much-publicized break from competition after the Tokyo Olympics.

“Having her as our hero ambassador is crucial because she is so authentic and has such a great comeback story,” said Filippou.

Reese’s Pieces, on the other hand, selected two high-profile Olympic and Paralympic athletes – Alex Morgan and Jessica Long – and pitted them against newcomers Sophia Smith and Haven Shepherd, in support of a campaign promoting Reese’s Medals, a limited-time product available only for the duration of the Olympic Games.

Marketers at Old El Paso, meanwhile, hope to create an association between families and teams. Agency M&C Saatchi Sport & Entertainment has partnered with four British Olympians (swimmer Tom Dean, cyclist Bethany Shriever, diver Jack Laugher and weightlifter Emily Campbell), each working above the line, producing content showcasing their family lives. and training regimens.

“Not everyone is a top athlete, but everyone has a home team they share a meal with,” says Charlie Carpenter, business director at M&C Saatchi Sport & Entertainment.

Ryan Reiss, vice president of brand strategy and creative development at Reese’s owner Hershey, told Digiday that the brand will start that promotional work with TV spots featuring actor Will Arnett, but will push its ambassadors to the front as the Olympics get closer. “As you get closer to the Olympics, you really want to hear about the athletes,” he said. The quartet have already started posting to their Instagram channels in support of the campaign, while Shepherd was called in to make a special appearance at Hershey’s World in Time Square for an event launching the Medals product.

Rules and regulations

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) still applies strict rules regarding advertising. Under Rule 40, last updated in 2023, athletes are not allowed to make brand endorsements or imply that a product improved their performance in the Olympics. Even thank you messages sent to brand partners are limited to one message per advertiser. So between the IOC’s rules and the time they spend training for their events (the reason they’re there after all), marketers working with athletes will have to tread carefully.

Weston said: “This is the pinnacle of their careers and for some of them it will be the only Olympics they ever do. The idea of ​​doing brand work around that time is difficult. You have to be very careful about what your athletes are comfortable with and what they are not comfortable with.”

The four American athletes who work with Reese’s have been allowed to dictate the frequency and timing of their messages so that the campaign does not interfere with their training, a Hershey spokesperson confirmed by email. (Filippou, Weston and Smith declined to share exactly how many posts athletes would make on behalf of brand partners during their respective campaigns, or which platforms were prioritized.)

That doesn’t mean we won’t see athletes blur the line between Olympian and influencer. Weston noted that the Olympics and the luxurious Olympic Village can act as a kind of training ground for sports personalities.

Marketers should keep an eye on the social platforms of competing athletes in July and August, he said, as they could become big sports personalities after this year’s Games. New names will likely emerge from the Olympics, while others may find their core supporters in the crowd; Lyles now has 99,000 TikTok followers, but could end the summer with a much larger platform. “For us, the Olympic Village will be a happy farm,” he added.

Powerade hopes to expand its campaign to the village itself. In partnership with the IOC, it has built an annex to the site that provides athletes with a quiet space away from training or their other media duties.

The idea is to “provide the athletes with an environment in which they can recover mentally or physically,” Filippou said. If they decide to offer that environment on TikTok or Reels, that’s fine with The Coca-Cola Company.