Unique immersive experiences played into the Olympic experience for successful brands at Rio.

Athletics are, of course, the main draw at the Olympic Games. But for marketers, the Olympics also represent a huge opportunity on a global stage. (Even though viewership was down this year, NBC still clocked an average 27.5 million viewers during prime time alone, while the Brazillian government predicted half a million tourists would visit Rio do Janeiro for the Games.)

How can a brand stand out among a sea of competition? At this year’s Olympics, sponsors focused on immersive experiences that showcased new technology, expressed a unique value proposition, or captured the fleeting attention of their Generation Z fans. Audience participation scored big, as did campaigns that pushed forward important social issues. Below, the top Olympics branded experiences pushing the envelope.

Samsung: 4D kayaking

For the first time this year, Samsung brought virtual reality coverage of the Olympics to the mainstream. NBC subscribers had access to more than 100 hours of virtual reality programming, allowing users to come as close as is technologically possible to experiencing the thrill of an Olympic event.

“VR technology carries incredible potential for the sport broadcast industry, offering a truly immersive user experience,” said Yiannis Exarchos, CEO of Olympic Broadcasting Services, in a press release. “VR has the power to enable hundreds of millions of people around the world to have a real sense of presence and participation in the most universal celebration of humanity, which is the Olympic Games.”

Samsung’s on-site Galaxy Studios, set in the Olympic Park, took the concept of full immersion to the next level. Fans could try Samsung’s new 4D kayaking, which paired an immersive 3D experience with a kayak motion simulator. Using footage shot with a 360° camera, Samsung was able to take viewers inside the heart of the athletic experience.

It’s a tech-forward push that certainly paid off for Samsung: More than a million fans visited the Galaxy Studios, the company reported, and more than 6 million downloaded Samsung’s official Rio app. As VR technology proliferates, look for even more creative, immersive events from savvy brands.

Timo Lumme, managing director of IOC Television & Marketing Services at the Samsung Galaxy Studio.

Airbnb: Under the dome

In the run-up to the Olympics, Airbnb ran a contest promoting a truly one-of-a-kind experience: a night inside the Olympic Arena. For the first time this year, the company was an official partner of the Olympic Games, providing “alternative accommodation” for travelers seeking authentic experiences.

“At Airbnb, we are in the business of offering unique spaces that inspire you long after your stay, and oftentimes we find that inspiration transcends the walls of your listing and lives on in the people you meet and incredible experiences you have,” said Airbnb’s Brazil manager Leonardo Tristão told Gizmodo. “Having the opportunity to live like an Olympic athlete in Rio, train alongside them and witness first-hand the thrill of competing for a gold medal on a global stage is just one example of the incredible experiences you find on Airbnb.”

Two winners received a stay inside the custom-built listing, which included gymnastics-themed features like a hanging rope ladder, a “safety-net” hammock, and a gold-plated bed. Floor-to-ceiling windows overlooked the arena. The winners were welcomed by Brazilian gymnasts Diego and Daniele Hypolito, who provided a tour of the venue and live commentary on gymnastics matches. A complimentary VIP package and spa treatment were also part of the deal.

Airbnb projected as early as July that hosts stood to make $25 million during the Olympic Games. The one-of-a-kind listing certainly played to the company’s strengths—and to its latest repositioning as an experience curator.

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In-room details.
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Airbnb's Olympic listing.

Coca-Cola: Teen Hangout

Coca-Cola targeted the coveted Generation Z demographic for its Olympic Stadium live site. The brand’s “Parada Coca-Cola” was a hangout space designed exclusively for teens and featured immersive sound and light installations, interactive experiences like a dance competition, and selfie stations with Olympic medals.

“Everything inside this space is designed for sharing instantly,” said Collin Brum, the space manager, in a promotional video. “So once they take the photo, they’re going to share it instantly online and hashtag ‘#ThatsGold.’”

Teens were also treated to a series of concerts inside the space that were broadcast on Facebook Live and on MTV Brazil, expanding the brand’s outreach to teenagers through the media most native to them: video. According to Campaign, Coca-Cola reached 21 million teens (77% of Brazil’s teen population) primarily through mobile, showing the effectiveness and potential of marketing to Generation Z with authentic content, unique experiences and video integration.

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Selfie station.
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Bubble-inspired displays.


Nike: Unlimited

Nike’s “Unlimited” campaign gathered significant buzz as the brand pulled out the stops for its first official Olympics sponsorship in 16 years. The brand held global event in major worldwide cities over 17 days, inviting athletes to join Nike in pushing their limits.

One video ad in particular stood out: “Unlimited Courage,” featuring the brand’s first openly transgender athlete Chris Mosier. Mosier, a triathlete, is also the first openly transgender athlete to compete on a US men’s national team. Although he did not compete at the Olympics, he remains an advocate for LGBT athletes. Mosier played an important role in shaping a 2016 Olympics policy that no longer makes reassignment surgery a prerequisite for trans athletes to compete.

“How’d you know that the team would accept you?” a narrator asks Mosier in the upbeat ad. “Or that you’d even be allowed to compete?” He replies: “I didn’t.” “Didn’t you ever want to give up?” asks the narrator. “Yeah,” says Mosier. “But I didn’t.”

The groundbreaking spot not only tapped into an important national conversation surrounding trans representation, but helped to push it forward. A recent study from The Innovation Group and OPAM (Out Professionals in Advertising and Media) found that just 23% of Americans sometimes saw ads featuring transgendered individuals. At the same time, 75% of respondents agreed that showing transgendered people in ads was an accurate reflection of society and that brands should try to represent the American populace.

Nike serves to get significant mileage out of its bold editorial choices: According to Google research, the campaign was the most-remembered among TV viewers, showing that tackling controversial topics can resonate strongly with audiences when done effectively. .


DFS: Leveraging #TeamGB

A fan favorite from the Rio Olympics was Team Great Britain, which became the first country to take home more medals than at the Olympics they hosted. DFS, UK furniture store and sofa specialist, was a standout partner of the social-media friendly squad.

How does a furniture store tie its product into Olympics advertising? Through a lot of creativity. DFS created a series of videos featuring Great Britain’s top athletes playing games like #FlipIt, a challenge that involved landing a stack of coasters flipped off a coffee table. The challenge series allowed the brand to showcase its furniture with athletes in a relaxed setting—as if they were home. (DFS furnished the team’s home in the Olympic Village.)

DFS effectively tapped the competitive spirit of the Olympics in a lighthearted and ironic way, keeping a leaderboard that allowed audiences to follow along. Audiences were also encouraged to try the challenge and upload their own #FlipIt video. DFS is a prime example that creativity and careful timing can help set any brand apart.