IX Perspectives

How Top Olympic Sponsors Used Programmatic During Rio 2016

I think there’s something so special about any sort of gripping, scheduled televised event that attracts scores of viewers from all different cities, neighborhoods, and homes. Superbowl? Love it. Oscars? Can’t wait to see who wins. And nothing gets more appointment television status for me than Bachelor premieres. The Olympics is like that but … the whole WORLD is watching! That and it only takes place every two years – nothing gets more special than that.

The Rio 2016 games came and went, and what fun they were. Now that the medals are all doled out and the Olympic Village is a (likely very dirty) ghost town, it’s time to look at Rio from the programmatic side.

We noticed a big push from Comcast, promoting the games, from June through mid-August. The mega-broadcaster was the biggest spender within Index Exchange during the month of July, and remained within the top ten through the end of the games. But it’s not just Comcast – the Olympics, of course, are a major advertising period for scores of the world’s most recognized brands. And this year, the Olympics were truly cross-screen.

Sure, TV locked in the lion’s share of spend (over $1B worth, according to Ad Age), but these days, with TV spend often comes a whole lot more. We had a hunch there was a lot of fringe programmatic spend from all of the top brand sponsors, so we needed to check it out.

How the Sponsors Used Programmatic During the Olympics

We started with a pool of “World Wide Olympic Partners” (which includes Coca-Cola, McDonalds, Bridgestone, and P&G), “Official Sponsors” (including Bradesco and Nissan), and sponsors of the United States Olympic Committee (with Nike, McDonalds, Allstate, to name a few). We added sponsors of Team USA into the pool because the majority of exchange activity takes place in the United States market. Of a list of over 30 brands, we looked at the top ten biggest spenders, exchange wide, between August 12 and August 21 (the exact days of the games).

open market buyers

The graph above depicts the Olympics sponsors that spent the most in the open market during the games. Allstate, a sponsor of Team USA, spent the most, by far. The insurance provider spent 2x as much as Nissan, who came in second. It’s no secret that Allstate is a strong programmatic proponent – the company was early on the in-house trend, bringing all programmatic operations into Allstate’s abode, over an agency.

Allstate’s position as a leader in the open market hints at its programmatic strategy during the games. The company ran a bevy of TV spots during the games, to a broad audience. The digital display and video it bought were probably used as a means to reinforce the TV messaging and reach that same broad audience, via the open market. Allstate’s strongest day for spend was August 12th, the same day as the opening ceremony. The company’s strongest day for impression count was August 22nd, the day after the games ended.

Interestingly, Nissan appears on the list twice. The first instance is Nissan Motor Company, the manufacturer of cars, and Nissan dealers, local dealers who sell and advertise Nissan cars. We see this a lot – a big push from the manufacturer is often coordinated with a flurry of spend from dealers.

The Private Market Was Big for Auto


The top spending sponsors spent the majority of budget in the open market, which suggests many of them were looking for scale and impression count, to amplify the effects of massive TV spend with a far-reaching audience. Though the open market was preferred by these brands, there was some activity in private marketplaces.

Nissan jumps to the top of the private marketplace list – Index Exchange runs a number of private marketplaces that automotive companies flock to, for the audience information and targeting opportunities they provide.

Allstate, as mentioned earlier, had reduced spend in the private market, compared to similar sized sponsors on the list. This is likely a factor of scale – Allstate wanted maximum reach. Price could be related, too — open market inventory is generally cheaper than what you’d find in the private market. The big budget, in this case, could have gone to TV with programmatic there to economically reinforce expensive, on-air commercials.

Nissan and Hilton Have Highest Average CPM

Below is a graph with the average cost-per-mille (price per 1000 impressions, a.k.a. CPMs) for the top spending sponsors, by marketplace type. As you can see, Coca-Cola’s private marketplace average CPM was the highest average CPM for any sponsor, in any marketplace. Thus, we’ve indexed everything to Coca-Cola’s private marketplace CPM. Tyson’s private marketplace CPM was close behind.

Nissan dealers had the highest CPM, on average, combining private marketplace and open marketplace CPMs. Hilton had the second highest overall average.


Video and Mobile Units are Two of the Most Popular

We took a look at the types of ad units the sponsors bought during the Olympic games. The top three units, by spend, were the 300×250, 728×90, and video. Note that the 320×50, a mobile unit, made the list – we can assume there was a lot of second (or third) screen mobile activity during the games.

ad units by spend

Top three units, by impression count, were the same, but video’s share was dramatically smaller. A video impression is worth a lot more than a 300×250, so video impression count always looks small compared to display’s.

Ad units Impressions

Of course, video’s scarcity and the programmatic demand that exists for it drives its price up. Below is a graph with the indexed average clear price of each of these five most popular units for the Olympic sponsors.

Average CPMs ad units

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