So you’re an Australian marketing manager and your company — perhaps your global head office — has paid lots of money for a share of the official Olympic sponsorship rights. It’s the marketing equivalent of having automatic entry to the final of any Olympic event you choose. What do you do?

Given this kind of opportunity, some Olympic sponsors have produced stirring, emotional commercials that leverage the Olympic spirit, a sense of shared excitement and core Australian values — enough to make Bruce McAvaney’s voice drop a couple of octaves. Others, in the style of China’s Liu Xiang, have fallen before the first hurdle. Here are the final placings…

LENOVO

The Chinese computer company, which bought IBM’s PC division a few years back, is one of 12 Worldwide Olympic Partners, paying perhaps as much as US$80 million.

As the voice over tells us, “Libby Trickett chooses a Lenovo Thinkpad because it’s… (Libby and her coach unconvincingly drop the laptop on to the tiled floor of an indoor pool) …a tough competitor, too!” Thankfully, comparisons between Libby and the laptop end there, as the computer also has airbags and is spill-proof. And check out the disclaimer warning that deliberately dropping a Thinkpad “may void your warrenty” (sic)!

Even the out-takes are bad. This one pulled up lame.

ENERGY SAFE VICTORIA

An unofficial entry, this Victorian Government authority has attempted an unusual manoeuvre with a very high degree of difficulty: leveraging the Olympics to raise awareness of electrical safety. Huh?

In ads designed to be screened during Games coverage, retired Olympic swimmer Brooke Hanson delivers a safety message “as the victim of a painful electric shock…” (when demonstrating a spa at an exhibition in 2007).

Perhaps more noteworthy is ESV’s double backflip with twist — its spokesman stated categorically at the time that “electricity played no part” in Hanson’s injuries.

MITSUBISHI

Having paid for the right to plaster its communications with the Olympic rings as an official Australian Partner, it looks as though Mitsubishi might have been outspent on airtime by its larger competitors Holden and Ford. The best Mitsubishi could manage when it came to TV ad creative was “Win with Mitsubishi Olympic Deals”. Did not make it beyond the first round.

AXA

The French insurer’s ads show images of athletes and their coaches, at both elite and junior levels, positioning AXA as a financial “coach”. When it comes to superannuation, we are told, “…success comes from long-term commitment and quality advice”. Warmer and more engaging than some, but the Olympic/coach metaphor is too laboured and rational for a largely low-involvement category like superannuation.

SAMSUNG

Samsung’s Olympic ad, which centres on its F480 phone, is a highly original and engaging idea. A DJ with a high-tech rig of Samsung phones captures and mixes live sounds from different Olympic sports, turning them into a pleasing piece of electronica. But no medals for Australia here — this is a global ad.

COCA-COLA

Coke is also screening its global ad, which features strange but cute animated birds collecting drinking straws to build their own version of Beijing’s “Bird’s Nest” stadium. It’s a rather (ahem) lateral approach, in keeping with Coke’s quirkier and occasionally psychedelic advertising style of recent years. Developed by an Amsterdam ad agency, this competitor is still awaiting the results of drug testing.

MCDONALD’S

The former hamburger chain turned salad bar and fruit shop, another Worldwide Olympic Partner, gets high marks for its “burnt sausage” ad showing Australians of all kinds sharing a moment of Olympic excitement, although the super-sized sentimentality may be too much for some to stomach.

Points were deducted, though, for its shorter ads like “Love the Opening Ceremony” (guy opens hamburger packaging) and “Love a Personal Best” (McDonald’s crew member races the clock to serve a customer), where the puns are stretched thin and seem unoriginal, a similar series having been done in the past for a local beer brand.

TELSTRA

As an Olympic sponsor, Telstra has the distinct advantage of actually having something Olympics-related to sell: streaming Games video for its Next G subscribers. But it raises the bar higher in this campaign with emotive footage of Australians sharing Olympic experiences, all set to a new version of Bruce Woodley’s anthem “I Am Australian”. A great all-round performance and unlucky to miss out on gold.

QANTAS

While an obvious contender coming into these Games, Qantas still had to perform on the track… and it has. Its clever ad uses testimonials from a diverse and appealing group of Australians including former Olympians, all of whom perform believably (no dropped laptops here). The pay-off reveals that Leisel Jones is literally carrying the goodwill of thousands of Australians with her to Beijing. The tagline “The Spirit of Australia” neatly and compellingly sums up how many Australians feel about our team at the Olympics and links that emotion inextricably to Qantas. A worthy green-and-gold medallist.

Stephen Downes lectures in the postgraduate advertising program at RMIT University and is a market researcher with QBrand Consulting

Peter Fray

Save 50% on a year of Crikey and The Atlantic.

The US election is in a little over a month. It seems that there’s a ridiculous twist in the story, almost every day.

Luckily for new Crikey subscribers, we’ve teamed up with one of America’s best publications, The Atlantic for the election race. Subscribe now to make sense of it all, and you’ll get a year of Crikey (usually $199) and a year’s digital subscription to The Atlantic (usually $70AUD), BOTH for just $129.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

JOIN NOW