Olympic Advertisements That Soared And Sank

Updated: Aug 31 2004, 05:30am hrs
The advertising orgy that was the 2004 Summer Olympics has mercifully ended, and not a moment too soon for the bleary-eyed audiences exposed to 13,000 to 14,000 commercials during the 1,210 hours of coverage across the seven NBC Universal networks.

Perhaps the International Olympic Committee ought to award viewers medals for endurancecast in iron, to symbolise the iron pants one needed to sit through so many spots. Or perhaps not, as it might only encourage marketers to mount even more invasive ad barrages in 2006 and 2008.

To be sure, there were entertaining commercials among the more than $1 billion worth of spots that ran from August 13 through Sunday night. But it is difficult to recall them in the aftermath of the exhausting, hucksterish din.

While it seemed that NBC Universal sought to schedule the commercial breaks in a manner that would not fatigue the audience, the rhythm of the interruptionsparticularly on NBC, when as many as seven commercials sometimes appeared at a timewas perturbing, if not downright annoying.

Now it is time to award make-believe medals in a post-Olympics advertising review.

Some terrible commercials are getting the dreaded lead medal, for base (and debased) performance. Some commercials that fell short or rang false are receiving tin medals. And the commercials that were worth watching have earned gold.

Here are some examples, in alphabetical order, of how advertisers and agencies fared:


A commercial for the AT&T Corp. featuring a talking Trojan horse, promoting its network security service, earns lead for being too reminiscent of the old Saturday Night Live skits featuring a talking land shark, voiced by Chevy Chase. Hmmm. Maybe that solves the mystery of where Chase has been.

Agency: Young & Rubicam Advertising, part of the WPP Group


A batch of commercials for BMW ranged from front-runners to also-rans, thanks to twist endings that soared or sank. A gold goes to a spot about a farmer who sells an early 1970s BMW abandoned in his barn to an automotive aficionado. Cut to the farmer behind the wheel of the brand-new Beemer he bought with the proceeds. The twist: He is dressed not in the posh driving togs typical of BMW ads but in his denim and flannel work clothes. A twist that did not work came in a commercial, set during a stormy night, that showed a BMW parked behind a tow truck on the side of a road. Two voices are heard saying, It just died on me and Let me get you into town. Then you guessed itthe tow truck driver gets a lift from the BMW driver.


Agency: Fallon Worldwide, part of the Publicis Groupe

Bush-Cheney 04:

This Olympics, there will be two more free nations, an announcer declared in a commercial from the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign, referring to Afghanistan and Iraq, adding, Freedom is spreading through the world like a sunrise. But politicising the games was as maladroit a move as any by Marion Jones, as evidenced by complaints from officials of the US Olympic Committee, the Iraqi soccer team and the Marketing Commission of the International Olympic Committee. They all urged that the commercial be withdrawn, charging that it misused the Olympics for partisan purposes. The campaign refused, saying the ad was simply presenting facts.


Agency: Maverick Media


Not only were most of the commercials for the Chevrolet division of the General Motors Corp delightful, but there were enough of them to offer variety amid the repetition. Spots for the Malibu Maxx shone by using children in a cute, but not cloying, fashion. The best commercial in the Chevy garage was a fanciful spot designating the 2005 Corvette as the official car of your dreams. Yes, the ad was withdrawn by GM after safety groups complained, but it was clearly set up as a fantasy, down to the words This is a dream superimposed on the screen.


Agency: Campbell-Ewald, part of the Interpublic Group of Companies


There were scores of commercials from Olympic sponsors and suppliers who sought to wrap themselves around the rings, but none so clever as those from the DHL delivery service, owned by Deutsche Post. How far will DHL go to help the athletes Cyclists use a delivery truck to train, an archer uses a delivery box to store her arrows and DHL employees rush to cushion a long jumpers return to earth with packing foam.


Agency: Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, part of WPP

General Electric:

The NBC Universal co-parent General Electric made ample use of its cross-marketing opportunities to sell other products and services during the games, in numerous commercials of varying quality, all by BBDO Worldwide, part of the Omnicom Group. One spot, using snippets of the 1966 film Fantastic Voyage to dramatise the gee-whiz aspects of a surgical navigation system sold by GE Healthcare, was the most outstanding, rating a gold. Another gold goes to a funny commercial for the companys wind technologies, rewriting history to give new meaning to the term Viking cruise.

A creepy commercial for GE Water Technologies merited a tin medal, depicting musicians performing Handels Water Music as duh water musicians.


The offerings from the McDonalds Corp ranged from piping hot to warmed-over. Commercials that inserted Ronald McDonald into Olympic events like diving and synchronised swimming were winsome winners.


Agency: Leo Burnett, part of Publicis

Much less welcome were spots featuring neurotic characters fending off friends and co-workers seeking to share their meals of Chicken Selects . The off-putting actress in one commercial seemed to be channeling Rachel Griffiths as the odd ball Brenda from Six Feet Under.


Agency: DDB Worldwide, part of Omnicom


After watching the zillions of commercials promoting the new sitcoms Joey and Father of the Pride, which NBC hopes will anchor its prime-time lineup for the 2004-5 season, anyone expecting either series to be funny must also be expecting Paul Hamm to relinquish his gold medal.


Agency: The NBC Agency

Visa USA:

As usual, Visa USA claimed its credit and debit cards are everywhere you want to beand so were its commercials, whether you wanted them to be or not. Two spots, each with celebrities, deserved gold. One, for the Visa Check Card, spoofed the relationship between George Steinbrenner and the manager of his New York Yankees, Joe Torre.

The other, for the new Visa Signature Card, used film of Frank Sinatra from his ring-a-ding-ding days warbling Ive Got the World on a String. But a commercial that compared going without a Visa card to athletes forgetting vital equipment overreached considerably.


Agency: BBDO