Going for Gold: Maximizing Brand Impact with In-App Ads at the 2024 Olympics

Make the most of the Olympics by launching in-app branding campaigns to get in front of your audience.

By Amir Sharer, CEO, BRAVE

The Olympics are right around the corner, and as the world’s top athletes are training to perform on the global stage, marketers are planning their campaigns, aiming to take advantage of the unique opportunity to tap into the energy, excitement, and enthusiasm around the games.

Running from July 26th to August 11th, the Olympics’ official sponsors spend $200M – $300M for a four-year Olympic cycle, and a 30-second prime-time commercial on NBC is expected to exceed a whopping $1M. With that being said, many marketers deploying cost-effective strategies surrounding the Olympics are spending a fraction of that hefty price tag to run in-app branding campaigns.

As unofficial sponsors aren’t permitted to use the Olympics logo or refer directly to the Olympics, they’re still able to build campaigns around particular sports or participating athletes to utilize much of the hype. Few events have the capacity to generate such energy and attraction over a mere 16-day period, making it one of the few must-have opportunities for marketers.

Going Mobile for the Paris Olympics: The Opportunity Behind the Challenge

With users increasingly consuming and engaging with content on their mobile devices, sporting events of all kinds (whether individual games or large-scale events) are now commonly watched via phone, presenting the Paris Olympics as a spectacular opportunity for complimenting in-app branding campaigns.

However, the privacy changes following the restrictions of app tracking on both Apple and Android devices have made mobile marketing as we’ve come to know it, more challenging. Struggling to produce the campaign results they’re after, marketers are realizing that the performance campaigns they’ve historically run are no longer effective outside walled gardens – but it didn’t start there.

Even before Apple changed app tracking in 2021, which impacted performance marketing on iOS devices, marketers were overspending on performance campaigns in comparison to branding. According to research conducted by Les Binet, Head of Effectiveness at agency adam&eveDDB, together with independent marketing consultant Peter Field, marketers optimally allocate their digital marketing budget by spending 60% on brand building, and the remaining 40% on short-term activation or performance.

Despite the research from Binet and Field, data, insights, and consulting firm Kantar found in 2023 that marketers are still increasing their emphasis on performance marketing, making a number of interesting observations:

  • Marketers are subject to pressure from senior leadership to achieve targets (45.2%)
  • Performance marketing often drives more short-term returns than brand marketing (39.5%)
  • It’s easier to communicate the returns of performance marketing to the business, being dependent on measurable factors (36.9%)

Given the points above, it’s not surprising that 57.5% of marketers surveyed claimed to have increased their focus on short-term marketing over the previous 12 months. Research conducted by Deloitte reinforces the findings by Kantar, illustrating how marketers are pressured towards performance campaigns in order to drive ROI, with CMOs squeezed to deliver sales.

Even more so, the evolving digital privacy norms cause performance campaigns to face new challenges, particularly outside walled gardens, necessitating innovative strategies within these platforms to maintain effectiveness without compromising user privacy. The changes in mobile marketing are driving advertisers to further explore opportunities that offer them the ability to target beyond traditional performance marketing.

Context is King

Many marketers are turning to contextual targeting following the app targeting challenges that have swept the industry.

Contextual targeting enables marketers to run in-app ads surrounding content that is contextually relevant to its environment, being the advertised app. As most apps are interest-focused, any mobile marketer can find a range of similar apps to launch a contextually relevant in-app marketing campaign. According to research conducted by GumGum, contextually relevant ads elicit up to 43% more neural engagement, 2.2x better ad recall, and a statistically significant increase in purchase intent.

The digital version of “proper time and place” context is quickly becoming recognized as the key to deploying successful advertising.

Steal a Page from the Playbook of Olympic Marketers

Let’s examine this logically: would such a high volume of marketers pay $ 1M-$2M for airtime to advertise during the opening ceremonies of the Olympics (without considering talent and production costs) if their branding campaigns didn’t carry the weight? Nevertheless, most advertisers purchase ad packages across the Olympics.

Here’s the truth: branding campaigns don’t only work in-app – they’re exceptional. The modern privacy challenges in mobile marketing have shined the light onto how well-executed in-app campaigns deliver brand value and move users effectively through the funnel.

In 2023, BRAVE experienced a 174% increase in impressions served predominantly via in-app branding campaigns. Alongside a significant increase in revenue, this spike was driven by nothing other than the market no longer being able to rely on user targeting for in-app campaigns. Instead, our partners found success in branding campaigns, leading them to increase their investment in branding throughout the year and into 2024.

Branding is Greater than Advertising, which is why It’s Great for Ads

As the digital advertising ecosystem is waking up to its imprint on the environment, branding campaigns have also been found to be more sustainable. Pursuing app installs and volume-based targets, performance campaigns run more ads than branding campaigns, and, as a result, produce a greater carbon footprint.

Consumer research conducted at Harvard University further highlights the importance of the human emotional connection between users and the brands they favor, finding that 62% of consumers feel they have a relationship with a brand, while 83% cited trust as a leading factor in their decision to love a brand.

At BRAVE, our findings from 2023 validate that branding campaigns support advertisers in building deeper, longer-lasting relationships with their audiences, while significantly outperforming short-term, performance-driven tactics in both effectiveness and sustainability.

Knowing that performance ads try converting you on the spot, when was the last time reading ‘click here now’ made you feel something, or admire the brand?

Although the branding value of deploying in-app campaigns in large-scale events is clear, some marketers may still wonder how feasible their goals are for the Paris Olympics without being official sponsors. By examining some of the most successful campaigns from the 2016 Rio Olympics, unofficial sponsors have notably achieved remarkable accomplishments, making the Olympics a fantastic setting, whether you’re Nike, a mobile game, or an app.