In Depth

Why Olympic Sponsor Samsung Passed on Games Broadcast -- Amid What Looks Like Spending Drop, Electronics Giant Spreads Its Buy

By Beth Snyder Bulik
Advertising Age

Samsung's Olympics advertising never aired on the Olympics.

Though it is one of a select group of ten global The Olympic Partners sponsors, Samsung did not buy any NBC Olympic TV time slots. Instead, it bought airtime just about everywhere else on ABC, CBS, Fox, TNT, ESPN and CNN, and even on NBC during non-Olympic coverage. The ads ran on programming including NBA basketball games, nightly news and talk shows like "The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon," according to TV tracking firm iSpot.

Gone are the days when a TOP sponsor like Samsung needs to spend the majority of its marketing money on TV ads right before and during the Games. With the games being streamed live on NBCOlympics.com, covered on MSNBC, NBCSN and chattered about on everything from morning news shows to late-night, Samsung seems to be spreading its buy to be more strategic.

"More and more advertisers are looking to break out of the Olympics [broadcast]. There is a certain sameness to the advertising and it's hard to break out of that creative clutter," said Mike Reisman, principal and founding partner or sports-marketing agency Team Epic, part of the Dentsu Aegis network. "I think it's counterintuitive to only [advertise] in the Olympics. … You're putting the [Olympic] rings in the aisles of grocery stores and retail stores to reach a broad group of Olympic fans, why not do that within a media context as well?"

Samsung has two Olympic spots running in the U.S. The first, which broke in late January before the games, is its official sponsor ad and features snowboarders Alex Pullin of Australia and Norway's Stale Stenbech.

The second, "Home Olympics," is its designated U.S. spot, a Samsung spokeswoman said. It shows kids and parents creatively re-enacting Winter Olympic sports, such as three young boys dressed in winter gear sitting in a bathtub holding a Galaxy phone with bobsled footage, and a little girl in a skater dress dancing while her father records on his Galaxy.

That spot, from 72andSunny, began airing Feb. 12 and by the end of last week was No. 4 on iSpot's list of the most-talked about TV spots of the week. The only Olympic-themed ad ahead of it (at No. 3), was from TOP sponsor Procter & Gamble called "Thank You, Mom." Samsung's "Home" ad topped big spenders (and non-TOP partners) on the Olympics broadcasts such as Geico, Five Hour Energy and Chrysler.

Samsung declined to discuss its media strategy, but Forrester analyst Jim Nail suspects it wants to avoid wearout. "The danger of a huge event like the Olympics that goes on for days is you get hardcore fans watching every night and you can very easily oversaturate your market," he said.

For Samsung, however, the Sochi Olympics seems to mark a decline in spending. A Samsung spokeswoman declined to comment on spending changes, but ad trackers show the communications giant has spent aggressively on past Olympics. During the Vancouver Games in 2010, Samsung spent $18.6 million in measured media, according to Kantar, compared to $3.6 million during the same time period in the non-Olympic year of 2009. (Kantar figures for this year's Olympics won't be available for several weeks).

But lately, Samsung seems to have spent more aggressively in non-Olympic years during January and February. Last year, for instance, it placed 2,127 TV ads from Jan. 1 through Feb. 20, 2013, but this year placed just 1,126 during that same time period this year according to iSpot.

Samsung, like many heavy fourth-quarter spenders, traditionally drops off in the first quarter. And it may be pulling back following its fourth-quarter results in late January, which marked its first quarter-to-quarter decline in profits in two years. Samsung attributed that in part to "seasonally higher marketing expenditure."

Then again, it could be biding its time. One executive noted that Samsung is prepping a large Paralympic Winter Games push for March. And it's also said to be already gearing up for a big effort around the 2018 Winter Olympics set to be held in its home country, South Korea.

Contributing: Alexandra Bruell