NBC ads promise Olympics with attitude

Oct 22, 2001  •  Post A Comment

These aren’t your father’s Olympics. At least that’s the message NBC wants to get across in its promo campaign for the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.
The campaign will emphasize extreme sports in an effort to attract more 18- to 34-year-old men to the Games.
“Olympics capture the whole family,” said Randy Falco, president of the NBC Television Network and CEO of NBC Olympics. “But this particular part of the audience-the young men-have been going elsewhere. We’ve seen evidence of it over the years. It’s not just the Olympics. It’s sports in general.”
The promotions began trickling out during last spring’s NBA Finals and will shift into high gear after the November sweeps.
Edgier promos designed to appeal to the X-Games generation:
* Downhill skier Daron Rahlves skis into an awesome crevasse in a glacier in a spot in which the visual punch line is a cartoony X-ray depiction of a hard-pumping heart and the verbal punch line questions whether it’s the gals or the gold Mr. Rahlves is going for.
* Downhill skier Chad Fleischer, whose trademark buzz cut is dyed to resemble a snow leopard’s spotted coat-and who skied past the finish line into a ditch in his first race (he was 6 years old)-is asked by an earnest little boy what it feels like when he crashes.
* Bobsled babes Jean Racine and Jen Davidson tell the “press,” “We are the fastest girls on ice,” and prove it by taking an icy curve so fast that the only way to identify them in the blur is with a childlike diagram that’s reminiscent of MTV graphics.
* Freestyle aerial champion Eric Bergoust twists, turns and flips in an “Air Bergey” spot.
* Jim Shea, a third-generation Winter Olympics contender, co-stars with a skeleton in a spot about the rigors of “the skeleton,” which slower and saner folks know as sledding. “It’s all smooth until you hit something hard,” he says.
* NASCAR bad boy Tony Stewart fantasizes about careening down a slope in his Pontiac, which has No. 20 on the door and the logo of Home Depot, a sponsor of both his racing team and the Winter Olympics. But he can’t imagine anything going right.
Promos won’t be limited to television, either. NBC has put together a dazzling 90-second spot that has the production values of a James Bond opening sequence and the madcap antics of “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.” It will be shown on more than 4,000 screens in theaters in the top 25 markets, without any NBC identifiers, in January. The promo has also been packaged on rental videotapes of “A Knight’s Tale.”
The trailer stars top American snowboarder Chris Kluge, who is alive today thanks to a July 2000 liver transplant. He slaloms down a mountainside obstacle course-populated by everything from a battalion of dark snowplows to U.S. Women’s Hockey Team captain Cammi Granato to a redneck state trooper to Hari Krishnas-but like James Bond is not too busy to notice a girl-next-door beauty or plug his soon-to-come Web site.
At the end, a barely winded Mr. Kluge finds his way back to the girl. “Meet me in February,” he says. “Where?” she says. “Salt Lake City,” he says, holding out a puck embossed with gold Olympic rings.
“It is a bit escapist,” said John Miller, who along with his NBC Agency Co-President Vince Manze produced this spot (directed by John Debonito) and the many others in a campaign that Mr. Miller said “will probably exceed $25 million in promotional airtime.”
That’s more promo time than was devoted to the tape-delayed 2000 Summer Games in Australia, which underperformed in the expectations of critics and advertisers.
From the beginning, NBC’s plan was to leave the traditional flag-waving and heart-tugging that always increases with Games held on American soil until the Winter Games actually open on Feb. 8 in Salt Lake City. Despite the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11 that made flag-waving a very therapeutic experience, NBC never considered scrapping the extreme campaign.
The NBC Agency did, however, whip together a couple of spots with more traditional Olympics scenes-the flag-draped joy of victory, the tearful agony of defeat, candles waved aloft by a stadium-size crowd-and scored it with a solo piano rendering of the familiar Olympics theme.
“See the world come together,” says one promo. “See the world at its best,” says the other.
Still to come are athlete profiles, the unveiling of a new Olympic anthem-Mr. Miller and Mr. Manze are looking at such songs as Neil Diamond’s “Coming to America” and Paul Simon’s “America”-and nightly spots tracking the course of the Olympic torch being passed on its way to Salt Lake City.
But the spots that will get the most attention are the ones that aim from the hip and for the funny bone.
Spots tailored for cable systems-the Games again will play out over MSNBC and CNBC in addition to NBC-plug: “Three times the Games. Three times the speed. Three times the action. If you only have two eyes, that’s your problem.”
“In the past, the Games have been handled with a certain degree of solemnity. We tried to take a different view of it, that’s all,” Mr. Falco said. “I love [the promos] because they’re just different. They are funny. And that’s a healthy thing under any circumstances.