By Jason Notte
Companies don't care if you watch the 2012 London Olympics this summer: They're going to market them to you all the same.
The Olympics aren't cheap. Early estimates put the cost of this summer's games in London between $15 billion and $18 billion. The security budget alone doubled to $900 million from $450 million since initial tallies were made. Those kinds of costs require partnerships with some of the biggest corporations the world has to offer and lots of cash from those businesses in exchange for their names and logos plastered all over the event.
This means lots of Olympic-themed commercials, lots of air time and lots of awkward parallels drawn between athletes and the products their images are pitching. We took a look at the London 2012 partner roster and found companies whose commercials and images you won't be able to escape until the closing ceremonies.
The consumer products giant wasted no time getting its Olympic ads out there and was airing its heartstring-tugging tribute to soccer and gymnastics moms by Mother's Day. That was bolstered with online profiles of Olympic parents including U.S. gymnast Shawn Johnson's mother and U.S. swimmer Ryan Lochte's mom. If you're wondering when they're going to start selling you product, just check out the commercial with Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps' attempt to swim Americans clear of dandruff.
You won't see Apple and the iPad on the podium this Olympics, nor will you see Microsoft's Surface anywhere near the medals ceremony. Nope, that kind of honor is reserved for a company best known for making netbooks. You know, like laptops but smaller? Yeah, nobody else got it either, which is why Acer will be plugging away for its A510 Olympic Games Edition Tablet as it supplies all of the computing equipment for this year's games. Will it get average consumers to stop using "iPad" as a genericized tablet trademark or critics to stop using it as the reference point for every new tablet that comes along? Let's just say the athletes aren't the only ones dreaming big at these games.
Sepia-toned athletic drama? Thousands of screaming fans? Morgan Freeman narrating it all? Yep, that's about par for Visa, which has been an Olympic sponsor for a quarter-century and has some idea of how this game is played. Go big, go global and go remind everyone that your credit card is accepted in all sorts of exciting and dramatic places around the world.
Yet another longtime Olympic sponsor with a flair for the dramatic, Panasonic is trying to drag Olympics watchers off the edge of their seats with its ads because it has no other choice. The visuals have to look crisp and colorful, their Viera sets have to look bigger than life and all of the above needs to convince you to run out and get one. Why? Because the 20-year Olympic partner is throwing around a whole lot of cash to work with NBC and present the Olympics in 3-D this year. We're not quite sure how that's going to work, as NPD Group says 3-D televisions are only about 10 percent of the whole HDTV market -- and two-thirds of the 3-D TVs out there still require costly shuttered glasses. At least the ads look pretty.
OK, BA, you're the official airline of London 2012 and have British identity written all over your brand. How are you going to hold the public's attention for minutes at a time for days filled with hundreds of events? With an ad featuring a race between pieces of luggage, you say? Listen, folks in the states love this kind of stuff. We race subway trains, sausages, pierogies and team mascots all in the name of entertaining sports fans. But we only do it between innings and most people are in what you know as "the loo" for much of that time. Your ad may run for a solid hour during the Olympic weeks and it's already tough to get folks to sit still long enough to see a beach volleyball game end. Your baggage race may the only thing viewers watch for less time than the modern pentathlon.
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