Friday, August 8, 2008

Search Insider: Olympic Excellence Or 5-Ring Circus?

Olympic Excellence Or 5-Ring Circus?

MUCH IS MADE EVERY YEAR of the touchdowns and fumbles surrounding Super Bowl ad campaigns, and the associated search marketing successes or letdowns. But starting tonight, the Five Ring Circus comes to town, and we will all get the protracted opportunity to see big sponsor dollars and sports compete for eyeballs. Even if those eyeballs are held open by matchsticks at 4 a.m. for U.S. audiences.

Already we are seeing some of the more predictable user experiences -- we can expect Google logos with five rings worked into the letters, helpful Universal Search offerings (both Google and MSN already have a medal tally at the top of their results), and plenty of sponsor advertising. Some of it is official, and some is not. More on that later.

The Olympics is big business -- several billions in official revenue. About half of that is from broadcast rights (i.e. content) and most of the balance is from official sponsors (i.e. advertising). And then there are many multiples of that in associated tourism, future endorsements for athletes, and merchandising. But there is also a significant gray economy in unofficial content and advertising.

Let's take content first.

We all know that people use search engines to find content and to discover new sites. So what is the experience of the navigational search user, using their engine of choice to find Olympic content, coverage or news? While Google and MSN are happy to direct users looking for "Olympics" to other sites, Yahoo! is prominently directing search traffic to its own Olympics content. When you get there, it is not clear whether Yahoo! has any official rights tied to the event, but I guess anyone can tell a story.

$1.7bn in may cover exclusive broadcast rights, but the Internet has long been a non-broadcast medium, meaning, there are many more unofficial sources of information than official ones. If you are an unofficial source of information that can get an official sponsor to buy out your inventory, all the better. Legitimate advertising gives an air of endorsement to unofficial content -- and it looks like the media buyers for Visa have done a good job of spreading it around the Net. It's pretty hard to find content that isn't "Presented by Visa."

Ad dollars to be had. Sounds like a great incentive for quality Web sites with valuable content to emerge... Quick check... "Exclusive Ready Made Adsense Website For Sale - Site Niche: Beijing Olympics". Mine for only $7!

Despite this, the top organic result on Google for "Olympic blog" isn't MFA, but it also doesn't seem to have any blog posts about the Olympics. Instead, it is full of posts on random subjects, such as house remodeling and how to get a career as a flight attendant. In fact, the Subdomain, Metadata and a few links seem to have been enough to make it both relevant to Google's ranking algorithms and their Adsense contextual algorithms. Looks to me like a missed opportunity for mainstream media. Come on people, you've had four years to optimize your sites for this!

So what might we see in the first Web 2.0 Olympics? Plenty of blogs and twitters, no doubt. But nothing sweeping the Net yet. Where's Chris Crocker yelling at us to "Leave Yegoreva alone!!"? (Look them both up). What about "Dancing"? Matt Harding flailing his limbs at the opening ceremony like the Swedish chef at a hoedown? Will the cult of online celebrity bring back the sporting event streaker, long pixilated or cutaway from in-broadcast coverage? Will the elite athletes of MySpace finally get to compete as their own nation?

What about the advertisers?

Lenovo is paying big bucks to be an official sponsor. Are they milking this in search? Well today's Google result on "Lenovo" is for the "Official Site" with a free shipping offer, and no mention of the big event. But they do get on message when you search for the brand and "Olympics" in the same phrase (try "lenovo wishes dell sponsored the olympics" and they're there -- I love phrase match). Would you believe it? The Beijing Athletes use IdeaPads with Intel Centrino to blog! Thank you, Intel, for subsidizing that result. For the record, I didn't actually click.

What about non-official-sponsors?

I expect Nike will get a nice boost in search queries and site traffic, despite not being an official sponsor. I also expect the oblivious consumer will see them in plenty of positions on the fringe of the Olympics. Unless, of course, that oblivious consumer is actually in Beijing, where Nike ads have been taken down or covered up since July 19. Adidas will have paid around $100m as an official sponsor to dominate the media landscape for a while, which may or may not be worth the money. Nike may not be able to advertise, but it has plenty of built-up association equity with many of the athletes, and it still has over 3,000 retail stores in China. Perhaps more interestingly, Nike did sponsor the Olympic trials, including the provision of clothing and equipment. This means has a lot of content legitimately containing the word "Olympic," which could be leveraged through SEO or SEM. But doesn't seem to be.

I'd love to see the Search Engines' Trademark Blacklists around this event! I'm guessing the rules around brands and trademarks are fairly clear-cut. Are the athletes fair game?

"Michael Phelps" will certainly be a common search term in August, particularly if he is successful. A quick look at Google Trends shows a huge spike about this time four years ago. So who might we see capitalizing on this opportunity?

As I write, the day before the opening ceremony, only a few advertisers are bidding on his name. NBC is pimping its TV scheduling, outranked by ESPN hawking their news and updates. On lower rotation, he also triggers an ad for Speedo's "Team Speedo USA Collection." The landing page has no mention, nor pictures of Monsieur Phelps, even though he will be using the LZR Racer suit. (Incidentally, Speedo is not currently dominating SERPs for that obscure search term.). AT&T is the official telecommunications sponsor of the U.S. Olympic team, and it has been prepping us with the "Phelps Phan" TV commercial. An integrated campaign might look to catch the online demand, perhaps directing traffic to, where there is some compelling original Olympic content. I can smell an OMMA award in there somewhere!

But it's not all "phun" and Games. There is plenty of noise about pollution, terrorist threats, protests and censorship. In 2001, when China won the right to host the games, BOCOG vice president Wang Wei was widely quoted as saying, "We will give the media complete freedom to report when they come to China." Now it appears this may not actually be the case, as the world's media arrived to find several sites, including the BBC and Wikipedia, blocked in recent weeks.

These are reported to have been unblocked, but both the IOC and BOCOG seem to be distancing themselves from the promises and the reality. Whatever the reality, I would certainly suggest that this audience, as professionals who live and breathe the currency of online credibility, should take an interest in this topic as it develops.

Meanwhile, I've got the DVR remote ready (Archery? Seriously?), and am looking forward to a few weeks with something other than Obama and McCain on TV. What's that? They've just announced $5 million and $6 million Olympic advertising campaigns respectively? Looks like I'll be practicing a little censorship of my own.

Matt Kain is Managing Partner, Managing Director of Mindshare Search, the search marketing resource of MindShare and a division of GroupM Search.

Search Insider for Friday, August 8, 2008:

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