Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Search Insider: Missing Out On Olympic-Sized Opportunities

Missing Out On Olympic-Sized Opportunities

BEING FIRST-GENERATION GREEK, I was born with a couple of inherent qualities. One: an unpronounceable Greek surname. Two: pride for all matters that hail from Ancient Greece. It was as a proud Greek that I followed the Olympics (online, I'll add) last month. Three: an entrepreneurial spirit that I have found to be indicative, though by no means exclusive, to immigrant cultures. My restless mind is continually on the quest for opportunities.

With this love for the Olympics and a love for seeking out opportunities, my attention soon turned to whether or not advertisers were taking advantage of the spikes in search volumes that were occurring during the Olympics. Helping advertisers take advantage of topical and timely increases in search traffic is one of my favorite topics. I've written about this before - from Paris Hilton's presidential ad to the tomato scare, opportunities abound for brands that are not being seized. But, would it be different for an event like the Olympics? After all, this is an event on a much larger scale than Paris or tomatoes. And unlike news and pop culture trends, we know when the Olympics are happening, so there is ample time to plan and ensure there's a strategy in place to take advantage of spikes in search traffic. The question is, did this happen?

Over at Steak Towers, we conducted some research. We looked at whether advertisers in both the U.S. and the U.K. took advantage of their national teams' gold rush by using the immediacy of paid search marketing to promote themselves online against the names of their gold-medal athletes. We found that they largely failed to do so.

Collectively, the U.S. and U.K. won 55 gold medals at the 2008 Olympic Games, finishing second and fourth, respectively, behind gold-medal leader China. Analysis of search traffic showed significant spikes in interest in athletes following their gold-medal wins, signaling an opportunity for sponsors, news organizations and other advertisers to connect with interested consumers. However, few seized the opportunity to use paid search to capitalize on a positive association with the Olympic stars. Search ads appeared against only 35% of the U.S. and U.K. gold medalists' names. In many cases, advertisers -- particularly those that sponsor popular athletes --missed out on some of the biggest opportunities.

Search interest in U.S. swimmer Michael Phelps, winner of a record eight gold medals, skyrocketed in the week between Aug. 10 and Aug. 17, according to an analysis of Google Trends data. Yet, companies that support Phelps, such as Speedo and PureSport performance drinks, began running paid search ads against Phelps after the level of interest had subsided. Similarly, Kerri Walsh and Misty May-Treanor, the popular winners of the women's beach volleyball gold medal, failed to generate much interest from advertisers: neither their sponsors nor the AVP or FIVB beach volleyball tours, in which both athletes compete, were found to capitalize on their Olympic success. Even the renowned Williams sisters, winners of the women's doubles gold medal in tennis, elicited little in the way of advertiser interest.

With the exception of Adidas, which bought paid search ads against Shawn Johnson, and PureSport, which purchased ads against Phelps and Nastia Liukin, other sponsors and brand advertisers simply missed the boat by failing to run paid search campaigns at the height of search interest in the winning athletes. In the U.K., sponsors appeared to be absent from the paid search landscape relative to the winning athletes. So, who was taking advantage of this increase in search volume? Other organizations, including non-profits, news providers and public records directories stepped in to fill the breach. An ad for i-SAFE, a nonprofit foundation promoting Internet safety education, appeared for both Walsh and May, to promote a public service announcement that they had taped for i-SAFE. In a similar vein, the non-profit Athletes for Hope began running ads against the names of several members of the U.S. women's soccer team who are part of the organization's roster, and the RNLI, an organization that provides a 24-hour lifesaving service around the U.K and Ireland, ran ads against sailors Pippa Wilson and Sarah Ayton (but not against their third teammate, Sarah Webb).

News organizations and aggregators, including CNN, The Sun and Newser, appeared for some athletes but their efforts were not necessarily consistent with the level of interest in the medalists themselves. Microsoft's Live Search and Ask.com ran ads on Google around a handful of athletes, but their approach was likewise selective.

All in all, advertisers - and in particular the brands sponsoring the Olympic gold medal athletes - could have taken greater advantage of the rise in search volume around the athletes' wins. They didn't in 2008. Roll on 2012...and all the pop culture, news, sports and music spikes that will inevitably occur until then.

Chrysi Philalithes is launch managing director at Steak, a search-inspired communications agency with offices in New York City, London and Melbourne. Steak was named 2007 Interactive Media Agency of the Year by the Interactive Marketing and Advertising Awards. Contact her at hello@steakdigital.com

Search Insider for Tuesday, September 2, 2008:

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