Do brands always make the most of large sporting events?

How can brands ensure their advertising during sports events will command the crowds’ attention - and predispose more people?
23 May 2024
sports fans
Ecem Erdem

Global Creative Thought Leadership Manager

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Large sports events are precious: they unite people, with fans gathering to watch and cheer for their favourite team or athlete. They also serve as powerful platforms for advertisers, with their ability to capture global attention. Sports events serve as a unique brand building opportunity, with a chance to take advantage of the elevated mood to build meaningful consumer connections and predispose more people, through creativity.

With the 2024 Olympic games and the UEFA European Football Championship on the horizon, we looked through the learnings Kantar has gathered on sports event advertising and compiled them into five tips to help brands make the most of their advertising geared towards sports events and fandom.

1. Bring your A-game to stand out

Airtime during big events provides a huge reach and advertisers compete for the attention. This strategic intent clearly fuels the creative efforts put into advertising around such big sports events: we see that ads which air during major sports events are considered to be more distinctive.

The competition is on. But brand ambition is not always delivered on. The potential to stand out does not seem to translate into enjoyment, for instance. Super Bowl ads appear as the stars of the show, as they perform better than FIFA World Cup and the Olympics ads in advertising distinctiveness and enjoyability. On the other hand, there seems to be a missed opportunity for the Olympics ads which fall behind in the race. Perhaps they can learn a thing or two from Super Bowl ads. Chart

So, what is the secret of Super Bowl ads? It’s notable that 76% of these ads leverage humour – which is x3 compared to Olympics ads. And we know that ads that land humour well are naturally distinctive, emotionally connected and enjoyable, as well as more persuasive and well branded.’s Super Bowl campaign this year, ‘Tina Fey Books Whoever’, is a great example of this. The harmony of celebrity and humour makes this ad one of the most successful this year, as predicted by LINK AI.

2. Match the positive tone of the event

Sports fandom inevitably brings emotional experiences, whether it’s the frustration of losing or the elation of winning, and the emotional rollercoaster throughout. Not surprisingly, ads created for these events also carry their share of these emotional experiences. Our research shows that ads geared to air during sport events over-index on positive and negative emotions for viewers. But what is the emotional tonality that brands should aim for?

Different sports have different emotional tones they can use. Even topical events of the time can affect the emotional atmosphere around the sports event. For instance, football is highly-charged, and sometimes even aggressive as it’s more of a long-haul battle. The Olympics is an event that harbours various athletic categories and could be associated with those. One common element that sporting events carry is fun and celebration, and we know that ads that convey more positive emotions are more likely to succeed. So the creative aim should be to capture the positive spirit and match the tone. ITV’s Rugby World Cup teaser does this successfully, by centering on fan excitement about wanting to know who will win.

3. Build the bridge between your brand and the event

Creating ads relating to a sports event can be tricky. There is a fine line between advertising the brand and advertising the event, and many ads fall into the risk of the event overshadowing the brand. For those focusing on a sponsorship, it can be even harder to juggle the balance between making the brand the hero but also to highlight the event.

Louis Vuitton designed exclusive, custom-made trunks to house the Olympic and Paralympic Games medals this year. The ad introducing this work connects the brand’s provenance with the hard work athletes put in preparing for the games and manages to put shine on both the brand and the event, effortlessly.

4. Be inclusive and defeat the stereotypes

There are some messages that may seem more gender-specific, but it’s time to acknowledge that audiences are more diverse than people who have featured in ads historically. Kantar uses the Gender Unstereotype Metric (GUM) which was co-developed with the Unstereotype Alliance to help advertisers ensure positive people portrayal in their advertising. Looking at the average positive people portrayal in advertising around major sports events, we see that only the ads for the Olympics portray women in a less stereotypical manner, while the ads for Super Bowl and Football World Cup are at the bottom 50% in positive portrayal of women. Heineken’s ‘Cheers to All Fans’ is a great example of how brands can challenge the stereotypes around sports. The ad takes issue with what image comes to mind when people think about a football fan and reminds everyone that fandom is not gendered.


5. Don’t miss the brand building opportunity

Sports events are great opportunities for brand growth, as they carry a unified emotive atmosphere with a huge reach. They provide a valuable platform for brands to reinforce their meaningful difference and predispose more people. However, Kantar data shows that brands should be more aware of the power of these events for brand building, beyond just Super Bowl. We see that ads that are intended for major sports events are in top 50% of our ad testing database for their potential to contribute to perceptions of brand’s difference. But ads should also create meaningful impressions to fully unlock their potential for long-term creative effectiveness. Our database shows that Olympic ads are especially weak in reinforcing brands’ meaning, while FIFA ads are also below the global average.

To be meaningful, a brand should show it meets needs that matter: these could be emotional, functional, social and other ways that brands ‘work’ in consumers’ lives. So, the lesson is clear. Marketers should not overlook the potential of sports events for brand building. Convey what your brand brings to the table for consumers, beyond just the connection to the event.

Have the best of the competition with your sports event advertising

Major sports events provide brands with a vibrant emotional platform to reach huge audiences through advertising. The Olympics and the UEFA European Football Championship are around the corner, with billions of people paying attention. The big opportunity around these events has not been consistently delivered on by brands, with the Olympic ads being the stragglers. Ensure that your sports event ad seizes the occasion and contributes to your brand’s meaningful difference by predisposing more people. Discover how creative testing that leverages agile solutions is the way to win the game.

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