Olympic ad campaigns feature history, politcal correctness and hypocrisy

It’s two weeks before the official start of the London Olympics, but Olympics-themed television commercials are already saturating the airwaves from Richmond, Virginia, to Richmond, California, to Richmond, England.

The biggest of the campaigns airing gravitate to one of two themes — Olympic history and political correctness. One, in fact, manages to combine both.

Omega’s twofer

Omega starts with one piece of history and adds another. The first is that they’ve been timing the Olympic games for 80 years. On top of that, they added a piece of musical history, namely, the Rolling Stones’ “Start Me Up” as the audio track.

The video supplies the political correctness. It’s a montage of multinational, multicultural, multiethnic, minority and majority, male and female athletes psyching themselves up for the start of their respective events. The athletes include “Chinese diver Qiu Bo, U.S. swimmer Natalie Coughlin, British heptathlete Jessica Ennis, U.S. sprinter Tyson Gay, South African swimmer Chad Le Clos and U.S. pole vaulter Jenn Suhr,” according to Omega’s description of the commercial on YouTube.

The only explicit message is that Omega has been the official timer of 25 Olympic games.

An audience of two

Other major advertisers’ Olymlics messages are less straightforward, but they seem to be talking to a target audience of two — First Lady and anti-obesity crusader Michelle Obama and Michael Bloomberg, the New York Mayor who legally banned transfats, salt and now large sodas from public eating places citywide.

As makers of the number-one and number-two brands of soda (Coke and Diet Coke), Coca-Cola is feeling particularly defensive.

Katie Bayne, president and general manager, sparkling beverages, Coca-Cola North America, claimed in an email to Ad Age, “We have a timeless commitment to enhance well-being in all of its forms. Encouraging people to get active, and providing them with opportunities to do so, has always been at the heart of our brand values.”

As evidence of this, she says, Coca-Cola was the first soda brand to voluntarily put calorie information on the front of nearly all of its bottles and cans, and of the 700 beverages the company produces, 150 are low-calorie and no-calorie.

By the way, that’s all of 21.4%.

So Coke produced two campaigns — one for the U. S. and one for everywhere else — to motivate couch potatoes everywhere to get up and start working off the empty calories they consumed from chugging one of the 79% of the company’s other brands.

The worldwide version resembles nothing so much as a Super Bowl halftime show. Over a song called “Move to the Beat,” we see clips of the usual assortment of multinational, multicultural, multiethnic, minority and majority, male and female athletes at their respective sports. These are intercut with shots of a conductor, British singer Katy B and dancers all moving in sync to the beat of this song.

Domestically, they show an “8-pack” of athletes — hurdler David Oliver, gymnast Shawn Johnson, woman boxer Marlen Esparza, wrestler Henry Cejudo, tennis player John Isner, soccer player Alex Morgan, diver David Boudia and Paralympic swimmer Jessica LongĀ  — chosen, according to Ad Age, “to represent a diversity of sports as well as the multicultural make-up of American youth.” [Emphasis added.]

The video shows them competing at their sports — and, incidentally, drinking full-sugar Coke in such places as the wrestling ring and the swimming pool — while the audio says you can support them in their quest for speed, toughness, strength and happiness by buying specially marked cans of non-diet Coke.

“I am not a crook”

McDonald’s is playing “I am not a crook” on a multimedia level.

According to global brand officer Kevin Newell, who was a 200-meter Olympic trials runner in 1980, the “fundamental principal [sic]” behind their Olympics advertising campaign is to “encourage fun, active play as well as smart eating.”

The way they do this in one commercial is to show kids from different countries around the world racing each other to McDonald’s for such healthy dishes as french fries and Happy Meals, followed by basketball players LeBron James and Luol Deng challenging each other ot one-on-one for a prize of a Big Mac and fries.

Online, they created a website, championsofplay.com, in 41 different languages and featuring athletes “who will inspire kids to get active,” Newell claims.

This physical activity will consist of playing virtual swimming across the Atlantic and going online to chat with Olympic athletes. Neither of thrse activities will burn off so much as the calories in one McDonal’s french fry.

If there were an Olympic contest for hypocrisy in advertising, it would be hard-fought. But Coke and McDonald’s would be odds-on favorites to take home medals.