08. 09. 2021 Blog

Turning Olympic Gold Into Advertising Gold

Now that the Tokyo 2020 Olympic flame has been extinguished, athletes are starting to vie for advertising and sponsorship gold instead of medals. Savvy brands are just as eager to capitalize on the positive momentum to identify the Olympians to use in their ad campaigns.

The Olympic rings are one of the most recognized symbols in the world and the Games rank higher than any other sporting event. Brands that know how to integrate medal winners into their advertising, stand to score big with consumers. Not every Olympian will be able to turn their medals into million-dollar endorsements, but Olympic athletes enjoy a very high-level of respect which presents great storytelling opportunities for advertisers.


The pandemic Games triggered stronger emotions than ever

COVID-19 may have dampened pre-Olympic advertising campaigns for sponsors, but this won’t have an effect on campaigns involving athletes after the Games are done. The risk of more bad news is now gone which puts advertisers more at ease in planning post-Games initiatives.


Interestingly, positive emotions were heightened more than ever this year. A feeling of solidarity with the competitors endeared the athletes to viewers in their home countries. Separated from family and friends due to the strict lockdown in Tokyo, the athletes performed while millions at home were also dealing with restrictions. Many people who would not call themselves sports fans took on the emotionality of what was happening in Tokyo.


Associating the athlete’s success to the brand sends strong message

Vying for a gold medal may be the ultimate athletic quest, but unlike, major professional sports stars, Olympic athletes are not paid by the International Olympic Committee. For many, a standout performance at the Olympics provides the only opportunity to grab the attention of potential advertisers: In the four years in between the Games, sports like beach volleyball, gymnastics, swimming, and track and field go largely ignored by the general public.


It’s the recognition and prestige of a medal that affords these athletes a shot at an endorsement. But what do the brands get out it? The achievement of a medal is often the fulfillment of a lifelong dream for these athletes. There is no higher sporting achievement than to win an Olympic medal and this generates real national pride. Associating the success of the athlete to a product before the widespread enthusiasm generated by the Olympics dies down, brings an extra bonus for advertisers able to act quickly. It’s all about transferring the positive equity of a medal winner to the equity of the brand. Sales of athlete-endorsed products can rise anywhere from four to eight percent after a major sporting achievement such as an Olympic gold medal.

An athlete endorsement is a win-win proposition for both parties

An athlete featured in an ad can really reinforce the idea that the product can propel the buyer toward achievement. Such campaigns also thrust Olympians into the position of national role models, and this not only helps further the advertiser but also the athlete’s image. Appearing in an ad campaign provides a major boost for their personal brands.


For athletes who are seeking a broader appeal, it’s not enough just to be one of the best in the sports arena. You have to get quality exposure to make the move to a marketable testimonial. When you’re featured in advertising, even if that particular endorsement doesn’t pay a lot, it’s a signal that you have ascended to the top of your sport, that you are a sought-after champion.


If the brand is well-known and has prestige attached to it, it can get away with paying considerably less than other, more traditional endorsement deals. A four-figure or low-five-figure euro amount is often enough to sign most athletes with the exception of the big-name superstars.


Destined for great things at the London Olympics

Gold, silver, or bronze, and irrelevant of how recognizable the Olympian might be, the perceived fit between the athlete and the brand has to be credible and authentic for the endorsement to be effective. The campaign narrative must be both believable and persuasive in order to positively impact a purchasing decision.


A little foresight can also help. Months ahead of the 2012 London Olympics, we developed and launched the New Heroes Campaign for Velo, a world leading manufacturer of bicycle saddles. By recruiting promising young prodigies in the freestyle, BMX, cross and road racing disciplines, we cost-effectively put a team of potential medal winners together to endorse Velo’s Senso performance line. We rolled out the campaign to great fanfare under the advertising slogan “Destined for Great Things”. The riders were happy to get the exposure and active themselves in carrying out an ongoing dialogue with fans on social media.

Velo’s new heroes: young, courageous, and striving for gold

The storyline of Senso’s new torch holders had high credibility and fit perfectly. Velo was actively supporting these exceptionally talented, budding young riders to help them develop and achieve their championship potential.


One of the saddle maker’s torch holders, Maris Strombergs, struck gold in the truest sense of the word, by winning the BMX racing competition at the London Olympics. Strombergs won gold for his native Latvia, and also for Velo. It didn’t have to be gold and quite frankly the campaign was already successful without a medal, but this certainly added credibility to the storyline and brought added media focus to the campaign.


Stop the presses

Acting fast to capitalize on this achievement, we put the campaign’s focus on Strombergs gold medal performance in print ads, digital ads, and on social media, only days after he stepped off the podium. His personal appearances at Velo’s trade fair booth at Eurobike in Friedrichshafen and Interbike in Las Vegas were major happenings that drew thousands of fans and customers and made retailers happy. Senso’s new heroes were indeed model heroes for bike enthusiasts and their feel-good stories associated perfectly with the brand.



ITMS specializes in realizing marketing and promotional opportunities for world-class athletes, sports leagues, and federations. The agency also creates sponsorship programs and activations for corporate clients. Contact us to receive more information.