Super Bowl vs. Olympics: Discerning the Marketing Differences

Michael R. Czinkota  and Charles Skuba

Although the Super Bowl does reach viewers around the world, Olympic advertisers will be communicating with a much broader audience from diverse cultures who will bring with them a different set of interests and emotions. To persuade such a multicultural audience, advertising will need to seek commonalities of the mind and heart.  Global advertising agencies have the expertise to create messages that work across borders and avoid the danger of leaving broad groups of viewers bewildered or, worse, offended.

We offer five winning techniques (not exclusive to each other)for creative messaging to global audiences during the Olympics in national and global media campaigns.  

 Universal Human Emotions

The best brands inspire and capture positive, if not joyful, emotion in their customers. Marketers know that emotion often trumps reason in purchase decisions. Dig deep into any customer psyche, whether of a business decision-maker or a teenage gamer, and you’ll find a bundle of emotions that are common to people across cultures.  Although there are cultural differences in what stirs emotion, some things are universal, like love stories and the pursuit of dreams.

For the 2012 London Olympic Games, P&G launched the global “Thank You Mom” campaign that celebrated the love of young Olympic athletes and their mothers. There may be no more powerful bond than the love between a mom and her child and that love is a universal emotion.  Whenever we show the campaign film in class, it’s guaranteed to start tears flowing.  And, P&G’s “Thank You Mom app” that allows people to thank their own moms crosses cultural boundaries.

Expansive Imagery

The film industry has conditioned viewers across the world to crave dramatic, expansive imagery. The most successful global films create a powerful impact in sight and sound. The Avengers amaze and inspire audiences globally with their technological and artistic power. The Olympics are a key opportunity for grand imagery.

Marketers regularly use striking visuals to capture attention but the bar is being raised. A dramatic recent marketing event was the Red Bull Stratos mission and the awe-inspiring free fall jump of Felix Baumgartner from his stratospheric balloon. Millions of people around the world have seen the video and Red Bull continues to reap global benefits from the event.

Inspiring Sounds and Music

Hand-in-hand with expansive imagery are sounds and music.  Music enhances visuals for dramatic and emotional impact.  Marketers must be careful with music selection.  

Coca Cola has long used “happiness” music to appeal to young people around the world. Coca Cola’s use of music and visuals in David Corey’s “The World of Ours” song for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil builds from the joyful 2010 campaign song, K’Naaan’s “Wavin’ Flag”. Naturally, if the music is great, people will want to share it. Coca Cola, Facebook, and Spotify created a partnership to allow people around the world with access to Coca Cola’s campaign music.


If you want simple communication of an idea, it’s hard to beat symbolism. IBM employs symbolism to enhance and distinguish its campaign and product messaging in its “Smarter Planet” campaign

Product Demonstration or Problem/Solution

If you can show product advantage in advertising, it’s hard-working marketing.  The trick is to get people’s attention to your message. Samsung built in product demonstration for its Galaxy SII throughout its London 2012 Olympics advertising after getting attention through David Beckham’s wringing a gong with a well-placed kick.

Also, marketers would be smart to walk away from messaging that depends upon slang or references to national pop culture.  If you didn’t grow up watching American television, you might not get a lot of pop culture references that U.S. audiences instantly understand.

The advertising that audiences will see during the upcoming Super Bowl will be uniquely tuned to American audiences while that of the Olympics will be globally focused. We are confident that both will employ many of the techniques identified here.  Marketers are literally going for the global gold. For the audience, the Olympic marketing messages will be quite different from the ones of the Super Bowl but well worth waiting for.


Prof. Michael Czinkota researches international marketing and business issues at Georgetown University in Washington D.C. He served in trade policy positions in the George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan administrations. His International Marketing text is now in its 10th edition.


Charles Skuba teaches international business and marketing at Georgetown University. He served in the George W. Bush administration in trade policy positions in the U.S. Department of Commerce and previously was a senior executive in advertising.

Ways to Expand Participation to Improve the International Marketing Field!

The role of truthfulness and simplicity within marketing were discussed yesterday in  Setting Things Right Through Marketing! How Can Your Business Do It!. One other aspect to take into consideration is Expanding Participation.

International marketing needs to be truly international in its outlook. For example, using only English as the ‘language of business’ denigrates the use of other languages and reduces the idiosyncratic and precise participation of other nations and their citizens. If Eskimos had to talk about snow only in English, the rich diversity of this theme in their own language would be sharply diminished.

History indicates that power waxes and wanes. Just think of the Incas, the Greeks, the Icelanders, the Persians. Marketing preparation, can convert crashes into soft landings.

Communicate with Critics
Opponents are a constituency that must be brought into the tent. Human tendency is to focus on and celebrate winners. But not everyone touched by international marketing will come out a winner. International marketing relies on a fundamental belief into the virtues of risk, competition, profit and private property. Yes, not everyone considers these four dimensions as crucial or acceptable. When the rising tide lifts all boats, it becomes crucial that the vessels don’t leak, that the crew has been trained, and that the sails are tight and strong. Otherwise there is only a ‘winner takes all’ approach.

Personal Responsibility
In international marketing, distance can mean abdication of responsibility. Marketers sometimes demonstrate their desire not to know—by appointing a middleman about whose behavior one can later on be suitably astonished, and mortified. Though the chairman of the multinational corporation may feel removed from local issues, be assured that the locals take all of the firm’s actions very personally.

Though many say that we understand each other so well, the reality is quite different.  The actual overlap between societies is typically miniscule. Some Chinese leaders may have developed a good understanding of the world, but they represent a very small fraction of the Chinese populace. The average Chinese person may understand as much about Columbus, Ohio as the average American knows about Tianjin.

The goal for international marketers is not only to apply existing frameworks to new situations but also to develop new frameworks from the insights that they garner from working in different and diverse environments.

They are playing a new and growing role. In part, this has been the outgrowth of global crises which had not been anticipated or addressed by market forces. Today there are new global regulations and restrictions. However, it is not clear whether the signals of the market place or the plans and mandates of governments are more accurate. Markets are not always successful in their constraints and self-regulation, and governments are not always free of fault and ambition.

We need to set reasonable boundaries for firms. A key tenet of marketing is reverence for the customer. Many firms stray and take a predatory approach. Skuba works on the phenomenon of Vampire Marketing to highlight inappropriate, unjust, and ultimately counterproductive actions by firms. Typically, this takes place when the key consumption decision has already been made, but circumstances allow for additional offers. High minibar charges in a hotel, or pillows for rent on an airplane are examples.

For international marketers change is a key opportunity. Curative Marketing can help us all, by overcoming past shortcomings and avoiding future ills. Marketers are the agents of change and need to be directly involved in change. As the great Ludwig von Wittgenstein stated: “A philosopher who is not taking part in discussions is like a boxer who never goes into the ring.”  It is time for international marketers to enter the ring.

From “ From Professor Michael R. Czinkota’s editorial, “Curative International Marketing: The Next Step Up.”

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