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7 Creative High Fives for the Best Olympic Commercials

I didn’t want to miss a minute of the Olympics. Yes, even the commercials breaks. That’s when this self-appointed judge of her own Olympics ad award show took mental notes. (Hint: Michael Phelps, cute dogs, and a nun were all contenders.) A little more advanced planning on my part and perhaps I could’ve charged some entry fees. (Darn it.)

This hybrid award show features a “Best of Show” and two events/categories – “Humor” and “Serious Message.” Each nominee showed an amazing blend of strategy, creativity, acting, technique, and execution that honored their clients’ brand above and beyond the norm. Who made it on to my virtual podiums? Who deserves the most creative high fives?

Best Olympics Ads “Humor” Category

Michelob ULTRA: Golf Returns to the Games (Bronze)

Contrary to the cool, calm and quiet whisper of the customary golf commentator, Michelob ULTRA’s creative team paired this suspenseful golf shot with a highly energetic Brazilian soccer announcer. The juxtaposition of the two made this spot hilarious and a fitting salute to the game of golf returning to the Olympics after a 112-year hiatus.

Farmer’s Insurance: Hall of Claims: Mer-Mutts (Silver)

How do you persuade people to buy something they should have, but would really rather put off? How about entertain them with the deadpan delivery of actor J.K. Simmons and some real nightmarish and really playful scenarios that actually happened? That was the strategic thinking behind Farmer’s “Hall of Claims” campaign. My absolute favorite – and this silver award – goes to the “Mer-Mutts” spot. These dogs look like they could be on their own synchronized swim team, tying in to another Olympic event. I suspect “Mer-Mutts” is a nod to mermaids? Not sure.

Reese’s Train Like a Winter Olympian (Gold)

I couldn’t stop grinning every time I saw this gold medal winner, Lindsey Vonn, take on some of the summer events. We’re so used to see her bombing downhill on a pair of skis at over 60 mph. Here, we see her absolutely humbled in her klutzy attempts at a handful of the Summer Games events. And she gives us performances that are on par with Lucille Ball. Watching her try the hammer throw was a great reminder of just how difficult it must be to master these events, even when you are athletically gifted.

It’s another example of how self-acceptance is being woven into marketing messages more and more these days. Enjoy the moment and unwrap some candy. “Train Like a Winter Olympian.” I think this really stood out amongst all the commercials that showed athletes performing incredible feats. I, for one, hope Lindsey gets some more acting gigs. I could use the giggles.

Best Olympics Ads “Serious Message” Category:

Apple: The Human Family (Bronze)

Beautiful photography taken by iPhone users, peaceful piano music and the sage words of Maya Angelou:

“I note the obvious differences in the human family.
Some of us are serious. Some thrive on comedy.
I’ve sailed upon the seven seas and stopped in every land.
I’ve seen the wonders of the world.
Not yet one common man.
I know 10,000 women called “Jane” and “Mary Jane.”
I don’t know nearly two who really were the same.
Mirror twins are different, though their features jibe.
They think quite different thoughts while lying side by side.
I note the obvious differences between each sort and type.
But we are more alike my friends than we are unalike.
We are more alike my friends than we are unalike.”

In a time where we are inundated with political divisiveness, hearing and seeing this spot after watching the Olympic Parade of Nations felt soothing. There is such a genuine goodness to this spot. Unfortunately, it still reminded of why there was a need for this message and I wanted to escape that (politics) altogether during the Olympics. I hope it gets a lot of air time this fall though.

Visa: The Swim (Silver)

This spot revealed the true story behind Yusra Mardini’s courageous journey. Not long ago in 2015, before she became an Olympian, Yusra helped save the lives of 17 other refugees. When their boat’s motor died, she jumped in the water and towed them to safety by herself.

In this remarkably executed spot, Yusra recounted, “When the engine died that night, I told myself not to give up. To give everything. I did then. And I will now.” Then Visa adds, “This August, let’s show her the world is behind her. Visa is a proud supporter of Yusra and all refugee Olympic athletes.”

Wonderful storytelling and a thought provoking, warm message from a large corporation. Visa nailed this one.

Under Armour: Rule yourself (Gold)

I think we’re all a tad melancholy when we know one of our long-time favorite athletes is about to retire. (Don’t get me started on David “Papi” Ortiz.) After watching them perform at such a high level for so long, we feel like we know them. And yet do we?

That’s what I loved about this spot. We see the inside glimpses of everything he went through to get to the Olympics again. Lots of quick, epic cinematic-quality cuts that showed us we really had no idea. We see his face with doubts, frustration, and determination. We see his brutal hard-core training days, the weight sessions, the plates of food to keep up with thousands of yards of laps, the ice baths, hyperbaric oxygen therapy chamber, and cupping sessions for recovery. How absolutely wiped out he was by the end of the night.

What set the mood and made this spot more poignant was the fitting song selection of “The Last Goodbye” by the indie rock group The Kills, playing in the background.

At the end of the spot, we see the message:

“It’s what you do in the dark that puts you in the light. Rule yourself.”

With Michael standing with his back faced to us before his own pool. It’s as if he’s challenging us to step up our performance now – with Under Armour. Then share it with #ruleyourself.

There was no overacting in this spot. We just got to see Michael genuinely being himself. It was palpable, not only for us, but for him.

Here’s Michael Phelp’s reaction to seeing this spot for the first time. Pretty amazing to see how moved he and his fiancé were to seeing a commercial really honor who he is on so many levels.

Best Olympics Ad “Best of Show”

Nike: Unlimited Youth

True confessions, I’m a triathlete and I’ve been a fan of Sister Madonna Buder, known as the “Iron Nun” for about a decade. I was so happy that Nike chose to show the incredible story of this 86-year old.

The folksy announcer acts like he doesn’t quite realize what she’s capable of while she’s doing her Ironman training and race. And she and her fellow triathletes have fun showing him.

We see her in church. The announcer chimes in to introduce her and she signals him to be quiet with a “Ssshh.”

Then we see her running by a field as the sun rises.

“Sister Madonna Buder, 86 years old, goes for a morning run. Good for you sister,” he says in a slightly condescending way.

We see her swimming (with perfect form I might add) in a lake.

“She’s still active at her age. That’s great.” He says with a hint of a raised eyebrow.

We see her biking up some remote, winding roads.

“Maybe a little too active,” he says as if his masculinity has been threatened.

“Naptime sister?” he asks.

“I don’t think so,” she smartly answers.

“The sister doesn’t think so, okay,” he says with more respect.

Cut to her at the mass start of an Ironman with a mob of wetsuit-clad triathletes of all ages.

“Oh no, no, no, no. This is a bad idea sister,” he says with concern.
“A real bad idea.” He insists, projecting his own panic at the thought of doing one.

“Relax, she’s the Iron Nun,” one of the triathletes quips.

“But she won’t make it, this is an Ironman!” he states.

“The first 45 didn’t kill me!” she answers with a protest.

“You’ve done 45 of these?” he answers.

“Okay, do your thing sister. Do your thing,” he says with a perplexed resignation.

As she swims off with the rest of the age groupers.

UNLIMITED YOUTH pans up on the screen.

This spot will definitely challenge people’s preconceived notions of what is possible as we age. And that’s what Ironman is about – with a tagline of “Anything is Possible.” I’m certain Nike is looking to reach an older demographic market with deeper pockets. I definitely appreciated the encouragement. I also find it interesting because as far as I know this is Nike’s first foray into the triathlon space for many years. It was nice to see the Nike Swoosh on the side of these swim caps. I wonder if I’ll see their presence even more at the races.

On a side note, one of the most moving experiences of my life was watching the Iron Nun and seven other women between the ages of 68-84 make the cut-off of the swim at the Ironman World Championships In Kona. I was there with the crowds of people who were standing, jumping up and down, cheering at the top of their lungs with tears in their eyes as they climbed the steps to the transition area with ten minutes to spare. I was so inspired by her and the rest of them that I swam that course the following year on my vacation. You can see more of her here or read her biography The Grace to Race. Yes, I have a soft spot for the Iron Nun, so I think this Nike spot deserves my “Best of Show” for the Best Olympics Ads.

Thanks for reading my special Olympic ads post. You can read more of my “Creative High Five” posts here. Which were your favorite Olympics spots? Did I leave any out that you think should be here? Let me know. Would love to hear your thoughts.