Ad-Lanta Games Olympic Marketers Spend Millions to Go for the Green

Article excerpt

Tired of all the Olympics-related advertising and promotions yet?

You soon may be.

You can look forward to more than 20 hours of TV commercials from national advertisers and countless more hours of local ads, all squeezed into NBC's 171 1/2 hours of telecasts.

Expect nationally known athletes, some of whom are not even competing in the Olympics, to dribble, broad-jump and sprint their way onto your TV set, selling everything from fast food to makeup.

And if you're feeling sorry for yourself, pity more the estimated 4 million people milling around Atlanta, the site of this year's Games.

They're being subjected to hundreds of newly erected billboards and neon signs, several corporate blimps and dozens of special events staged by advertisers going for the green by associating with those going for the gold.

The Centennial Olympics has become more commercial than any other, probably because it is in the United States - the world's most advanced consumer market - and specifically in Atlanta, a city already painted bright Coca-Cola red.

"It's skyrocketed in the past 20 years," said Michael Jacobsen of the Center for the Study of Commercialism. "They're turning it from a sporting event to a marketing event."

While some people complain that the merchandising ruins the Games' athletic integrity, others say there would be much less athletic competition without the commercial competition.

Olympic officials point out, for instance, that corporate sponsorship and licensing generated about a third of the Games' $1.7 billion budget. And worldwide broadcast rights brought the Games an additional $900 million.

Broadcasters wouldn't have paid as much if they couldn't recoup it through advertising sales. NBC paid a record $465 million to air the Atl anta games in the United States, and it sold $680 million in advertising time.

The network charged an average of $300,000 per half-minute for a 17-day show. By some estimates, that show may reach 27 million or more Americans and 4 billion people worldwide.

Most of the top 20 corporate sponsors paid at least $40 million apiece for the right to use the Olympic rings in ads, call themselves the official such-and-such of the Olympics and buy up all the available commercial time for their product or service category.

That doesn't mean that they all did.

John Hancock, a life insurance company, spent close to $35 million for the right to use the rings and some Olympic air time. The insurer wouldn't pay $5 million more to be the sole insurer advertising, however.

AT&T Corp. also opted not to buy up all its apportioned TV slots, so rival MCI Communications Corp. scooped up the remaining 80 communications commercial slots, for $25 million.

Anheuser-Busch Cos. didn't take that chance. The St. Louis company is the official brewer and amusement park operator of the games, so don't expect to see any Coors or Disney World commercials.

A-B expects to spend about $120 million on the games. That will buy everything from TV spots (175 for about $50 million) to new business cards featuring the Olympic rings, company officials have said.

In Atlanta, A-B created a building and pavilion to house its Bud World Party, featuring a high-tech nightclub and laser-light shows for invited guests. Anheuser-Busch expects at least 200,000 people, the equivalent of three Super Bowl crowds, to flock daily to its Olympic area downtown each day.

To make sure, A-B has 24 permanent billboards posted throughout Atlanta, as opposed to its usual four or five, and some 200 smaller billboards, thousands of neon store signs and several massive inflatable beer cans.

The famous frogs will be for sale at the Olympics. A-B also will trot out its other commercial celebrities, including "I love you, man!" Johnny, the guys who dress like gals for Ladies' Night and the Clydesdales. …