As millions of people tune in to the Tokyo Olympics later this year, one of the world’s biggest advertisers hopes to give them something during the commercial breaks that is as inspiring as anything they might see around the swimming pool or on the gymnastics pavilion.
Procter & Gamble, which has become a regular participant in Olympics advertising over the last decade, will serve up two short films that give viewers a different take of the athletes competing this year. In one, mothers of various nationalities instill lessons in young children that eventually help them when they get to the Olympics to compete. In another, various Olympics and Paralympics competitors are seen doing inspiring things on and off the field. Other commercials will appear during the Games from P&G products such as Tide, Pantene, Olay, Venus, Always, Secret and SK-II.
“It’s a good time to put these out in the world,” says Marc Pritchard, Procter & Gamble’s chief brand officer, in an interview. “The Olympics are all about uniting,” and the company hopes the commercials’ inspirational messages stir the emotions of anyone who watches.
Viewers can also watch a six-part documentary series that features athletes taking action to bolster equality and inclusion, and see spots from Always that highlight athletes helping girls to stick with sports; from Secret raising the need for equal compensation and representation; and from SK-II that encourage women to create positive change. Procter is also working with athletes such as Sam Mikulak, Chaunté Lowe, and Jake Gibb, among others.
Procter is just one of dozens of advertisers hoping the Olympics will, after a year-long delay, finally deliver the big audiences they need to generate the awareness that helps move their products off the shelves and into consumers’ homes. This may be the era of streaming, but streaming venues still can’t deliver the crowds in a single moment that a live spectacular like the Olympics does. NBCUniversal, which is broadcasting the Tokyo Olympics in the United States, was able to secure around $1.25 billion in advertising commitments for the 2020 Games before the spread of the coronavirus pandemic scuttled the event. Some advertisers had to walk away from their 2020 deals, while others put a down payment on 2021.
Even now, concern remains that Japan may not be able to mount the Games in as full a manner as people have come to expect, and NBCU so far has not disclosed what level of commitments it has actually negotiated. “We’re very pleased with our pacing and the market’s enthusiasm for the Tokyo Olympics,” says Dan Lovinger, executive vice president of ad sales for NBC Sports, in a prepared statement. “Brands continue to recognize the unparalleled value of the Games, and we are working with them to innovate and deliver new opportunities that will enhance the impact of their campaigns and the viewer experience.”
P&G is informed by ten years’ worth of running poignant commercials that often play on the role of mothers in helping athletes develop skills and fortitude. “What we have found is that the advertising we put out really raises awareness of the Olympic Games, raises awareness of the athletes and the people behind them, and in our case, raises awareness of Procter and our brands,” says Pritchard. “We get our retailers to support us because they are excited about it. It draws people to watch the Games, and therefore it helps our business.”
One athlete viewers could learn more about is Allyson Felix. The champion sprinter is one of the Olympic hopefuls featured in the documentary series and is interested in raising awareness of the risks faced by Black women during pregnancy and childbirth. “Becoming a mom at this time when the world is going through so much — it has been a very heavy feeling, and it’s kind of really made me look at the way I raise my daughter,’ says Felix, in an interview.
She has faced hurdles to get ready for this year’s Games, she says. “We have had to get creative with the way we train,” she notes, with some facilities closed or restricted due to the pandemic. She has worked on neighborhood streets, on beaches and even relocated from her home in California to Arizona for a period. “I feel like I am prepared, but I feel it takes more to get to that point,” she adds.
The Olympics ads will serve to burnish a theme Procter used to start off the year. In December, the company launched a commercial that showed a series of babies, but made no direct pitch for any of its products, which also include Crest and Pampers. The company is eager to “use our voice to shine a light on good things people are doing,” says Pritchard. “This is no different.”