Opinion: Digital OOH’s Olympic Shot

The organizers of the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver are so protective of their sponsor interests it will be very hard for marketers who are not part of the official family to break through and get noticed. But the fast-emerging digital out-of-home sector is one answer.

Networked signs operated by DOOH advertising networks broadly populate the entire Vancouver-Richmond area where events are being held, as well as further north reaching into the Whistler-Blackcomb resort where alpine events are being held.

There are almost 10,000 networked advertising displays within a 40-mile radius of downtown Vancouver, operating in venues as diverse as convenience stores, groceries, casinos and nightclubs. It adds up to an audience of more than 10 million for the event period.

The opportunity is a way around the tight media controls and big budgets associated with the official side of the sporting and cultural event as managed by games organizer VANOC. The organizing committee — as required by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) — committed $38 million to effectively buy up all the mainstream outdoor advertising space in the Vancouver area for the 10 weeks leading up the Games, recovering that cost through its rights-holding sponsors.

This was done to control the message and protect the rights and interests of sponsors such as McDonald’s, Visa, GE and Coca-Cola who don’t want to see what would amount to high-priced guerrilla marketing by nonsponsors lining the city’s main thoroughfares during the event. That need to protect sponsor interests is particularly strong because research strongly suggests top sponsorships for the Olympics cost more than they will ever return. This is also practiced to ensure an equal distribution of the media among official sponsors. Even those who are sponsors are limited to the strategic placements and packages that are available.

With such tight clamps applied on mainstream media and access limited, DOOH networks operating inside the doors of high-traffic venues are safely outside the reach of VANOC, as long as all the long-held brand and brand association rules are respected. VANOC has published rules that suggest a Winter 2010 sale for a retailer is fine, but an Olympics Markdown will get a retailer a call or letter from the brand police.

The need to directly tie to the Games is questionable, but simply being in the mix during one of the world’s great sporting events is a good start, and even sponsors have said their media efforts are about affinity — not hard selling — during an Olympic Games. The world’s attention is going to be directly on Vancouver and Whistler, and it’s an incredible opportunity for brand exposure for marketers.

Advertisers wanting to leverage the DOOH medium can leverage a DOOH aggregator. DOOH networks and their viewing audiences can make available a single-source media planning platform for agencies and brands looking to precisely target their messages.

DOOH networks will be a compelling option for marketers during the Games for several reasons that go beyond simply being a viable media placement choice in a controlled media environment. Screens in venues are networked, and that opens up many options not really feasible with conventional signs, particularly when traffic in the metro area will be restricted and therefore jammed. Delivering new posters would be tough by van or truck. No problem via the Internet, which enables campaigns to be modified during its flight time and/or activated without the traditional lead time of six weeks for production and distribution. Digital signs also offer the flexibility to schedule different messages by date and even time of day, and even the ability to “hypertarget” the messaging by a range of different variables. When the event of the day is the Ladies Snowboard Cross qualifiers and finals, the messages skew female.