Blogs & Comment

Nike and Beats by Dre win Olympic ambush gold

Brands cash in on high visibility and products-as-ads strategy.

(l-r) Ross Murray of Great Britain, Ryan Gregson of Australia and Asbel Kiprop of
Kenya compete in the Men’s 1500m Semi Final on Day 9 of the London 2012 Olympic
Games—wearing Flyknit Volt shoes, of course  (Photo: Michael Steele/Getty Images)

Before the Olympics started, we suggested a few ways brands could duck the insanely strict marketing rules set by organizers, getting the impact without shelling out the big bucks needed to be an “official sponsor.”

Two brands that stuck out in many ways were Nike and Beats by Dre. The latter, a headphone maker headed by rapper and producer Dr. Dre, was omnipresent at the pools and track with athletes of all stripes adding them to their pre-event warm-up wardrobe.

The brand set up house in London’s exclusive Shoreditch House club, inviting Olympic athletes to come by and try its wares, as well as instructing its staff to give out headphones to any Olympic athletes they might bump into.

It was the perfect gambit, given the best ad for Beats are the headphones themselves. International Olympic Committee spokesman Mark Adams said they were aware of Beats but “we have to take a common sense approach. There is a difference between someone using equipment with a logo and someone promoting a brand.”

But is there, really? Nike’s creative director for Olympics Martin Lotti told Advertising Age the strategy behind the brand’s Flyknit Volt running shoe, and it had just as much to do with attention as performance. There’s a reason you saw so many neon green shoes on the track and elsewhere. “It’s the most visible color to the human eye,” Lotti said. Nike used to make shoes in each of its athletes’ national colors but the Volt approach gives it what Lotti told AdAge, “the easiest way” to make a splash.”

We might not get to see what Nike will do next in the ambush department. Adidas’ hasn’t renewed its Olympic sponsorship for 2016, so maybe we’ll get a chance to see what the Swoosh can do when it’s “official.”