Three Lessons I Learned From the Olympics

I love the Olympics. There’s something about seeing the culmination of a life time of effort. We get wrapped up in the victories and the heartache. We cheer for people we’ve never heard of in sports we have little interest in. The Olympics inspire people for no other reason than that they are the Olympics. There will be track meets and rowing regattas next month as well. But, you and I will not watch them. The story for those events isn’t as strong. It’s not even just us either. There’s a reason that world records happen more often in big competitions. Everybody gets up for the big day. All of this emotion is prevalent because of one important detail.

There are a lot of things we can learn from the Olympics for advertising. I’m going to tackle three, starting with the most important one.

  1. Storytelling – I mention it often for a good reason. It’s the most important thing you can do in your advertising. It’s far more important than the sale you’re running next weekend. It’s more important than the awards you won last year. It’s more important than the new product line you’re bringing in. Storytelling is important to humanity. It links us back to the time when language was born.. We like to be surprised and delighted by the extraordinary. The Olympics supply these stories in excess. There are new stories unravelling constantly.

We also get the chance to see a better class of commercial while we watch. All of the big advertisers spend big money on new campaigns. Almost all of them are great examples of storytelling. Proctor & Gamble used this as a moment to thank Moms. Nike encouraged us to “find our greatness.” Those paying attention learned a few valuable lessons in advertising.

So how do we translate this to your business? Basically, take your original thought process a little further. What’s the story behind that new product? How did you get those awards? If you can link those answers back to an experience that your customers can connect with, you may have a good story.

  1. Inclusion – One of my favourite moments this year was Usain Bolts run in the 100m dash. I did love the run itself, but the moment that will really stick with me came before the athletes lined up. There was a volunteer standing behind Bolt. If you looked at him you could tell that he was doing everything he could to contain his obvious excitement. Bolt must have noticed it as well, because he looked him in the eye and offered him a fist bump. You could tell that the volunteer had just lived one of the best moments in his life. Usain Bolt fist bumped him before he ran his legendary race. The lesson we can learn here is one of inclusion. The volunteer was so much more than a stranger in a story. He made the moment real. We all find it hard to place ourselves in the shoes of someone like Usain Bolt. But, we can all imagine being that volunteer, nervously standing behind the man. When Bolt acknowledged the common man, he included all of us. We became a part of the story. This is why it’s important to include your listener in your advertising. Make it easy for them to share in the experience
  2. Perspective – During the closing ceremonies I was impressed by one camera shot. Instead of zooming in on the band on stage, the camera person zoomed into the viewfinder on one of the athletes video cameras. For a couple of seconds we watched the event through their eyes.

I loved that. It works well with my previous point of inclusion. Looking through someone else’s viewfinder gives you a different window on the world. It reminds you that this is a real event with real people watching it. That dose of reality makes it easier to imagine being there.

It also shows you a new perspective. It turns the event on its head and offers the viewer something new. How could you incorporate that into your advertising? How can you show your listeners something new? Something that will rock them into consciousness. The idea is to offer something completely different and surprising. If it hasn’t been tried, it should be tried.

You don’t have to run a 3 minute mile to be able to write good advertising. We have it much easier than an Olympic athlete. All we need to do is connect deeply with our own humanity. If you can speak well with one person, you can speak well with everyone. Just make the story about them.