Buying Impressions Never Guarantees You’ll Make a Positive One

With the Rio 2016 Olympics coming to a close, there’s something that’s been nagging at me. Like many Canadians, I have consumed most of my Olympic content — the highlights, the victories, the tears and the cheers — through my smartphone. And, not surprisingly, the RIO 2016 Olympic App from the CBC was my primary content channel.

Despite the Canadian Olympic team’s best overall showing in history, my enjoyment was constantly interrupted by the advertising. I know the power of an effective piece of creative. But what struck me throughout this two week event was how completely out-of-place every advertising execution felt.

Big, anthemic-style ads have always been a part of the Olympic broadcast experience as brands seek to capitalize on the emotional momentum of the Games to connect with consumers. In a world of four-hour broadcasts this model works (or is at least accepted by viewers). But, with the intimacy of a mobile device where viewing habits are defined by watching a varied mix of highlights in 2–3 minute clips, this advertising model quickly breaks down.

For each Olympic clip, I had to watch 1, 2 and sometimes 3 advertisements prior to earning the privilege of viewing the athletic competitions I had gone to the app for in the first place. Each of these ads was clearly a big budget production lasting at least 30 seconds. And, in some corporate head office I’m sure a marketing or sponsorship manager was convinced they would have my rapt and undivided attention. Unfortunately, after just one sitting, subjected to the same ads repeatedly, my interest quickly wore out and I could feel my anger boiling over at the brands I was supposed to fall in love with.

Yet, media companies and advertisers will undoubtedly celebrate the success of these campaigns, pointing to the total audience impressions delivered over the course of the Games.

What will be missing from those celebrations will be an accurate representation of the true effectiveness of the dollars spent. While the CBC may have delivered the quantity of impressions that were paid for, if my experience is any indication, the lasting impression these brands have left on their audience, will be a negative one.

In the future, I hope to see more brands thinking less about “content” and “eyeballs” and far more about context. The good news is that, even though we are changing how and where we experience large-scale events like the Olympic Games, advertising can still play a relevant role. Here are just a few questions to get you started as you consider the next opportunity:

  • How might your brand narrative be served up in much smaller ‘bites’ that minimize the time a viewer must invest before getting to their desired content?
  • Given the frequency with which content will be consumed, how might you deliver your message with more variety to reduce wear-out and keep people interested?
  • How can you weave your story more intelligently into the real-time drama of the <insert relevant event>?
  • Is there a better way to embed your brand into the experience?

If you’d like help tackling these questions and exploring a fresh approach to making impactful brand impressions, The Garden would be excited to partner with you. Drop us a message at

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