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most viewed video ads olympics
Aug 13, 2021

Most Viewed Video Ads: 2021 Tokyo Olympics

The Most Viewed Video Ads for the 2021 Tokyo Olympics showcase the familiar themes the Games are known for — dreams, ambition, and the inspiration that anything is possible with a little grit. But other themes also emerged — feminism and mental health, as brands used their platform to show support and solidarity for topical social issues.


Despite some global sponsors distancing themselves from the Games — like Toyota, who opted out of airing Olympic themed advertisements in Japan — North American advertisers seemed less cautious. Athletic apparel and equipment companies were the most represented industry in the Top 10 Most Viewed Videos Ads in North America, including the likes of Peloton, Dick’s Sporting Goods, and Nike.


More controversy, more streaming

After being delayed a year, in many ways the summer Games faced an uphill battle. Calls to further postpone or cancel them, concerns about COVID-19 infection rates, absence of a live audience and controversies surrounding the athletes themselves only added to the mix. With the steadfast adoption of subscription streaming services the Games also faced the most competition for viewership they ever have.

Was it one of these factors, or a combination that’s to blame for the plummeting ratings of the 2021 Olympics? Or are people just less interested in watching sports? We can’t say for certain what caused the historic low in viewership, but what we do know is that the way people consume the content has changed.

US official Olympic broadcaster NBC received an average of 15.5 million primetime viewers over the 17 day event, down an incredible 42% from the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in 2016. But streaming minutes hit 5.5B, making it the most streamed Olympics ever, according to NBCUniversal.

In Canada, official Olympic broadcaster CBC said Canadians consumed nearly 17M hours of digital Olympic content, setting a record-high for digital audiences. These numbers highlight the larger trend towards growing connected TV and OTT audiences and the importance of digital advertising.


*Top 10 Most Viewed Video Ads in North America for the 2021 Tokyo Olympics:


Rank Company Campaign name Views
1 OMEGA Timekeeping and tradition: OMEGA meets Japan 75,259,699
2 Nike Best Day Ever 64,275,879
3 United It’s Time to Let Yourself Fly 20,889,535
4 Beats by Dre Beats by Dre – Sha’Carri Richardson & Kanye West 19,359,821
5 SK- II VS Series 8,008,938
6 CarMax Usainly Fast Car Offers 6,740,262
7 Eli Lilly and Company Our Collective Health 6,701,902
8 Facebook We Change the Game 6,220,555
9 Dick’s Sporting Goods There She Is 6,136,028
10 Peloton It’s You. That Makes Us. 4,967,192


*Data collected by AcuityAds’ True Reach™ insights platform from April 26 – August 9, 2021


Let’s dive a little deeper into the themes that made these ads so memorable:

1. Aspiration fuels desire

Nothing is more inspiring than the passion and dedication Olympians have to their sport and brands want to be a part of it. The top three ad spots all carry this sentiment. Coming in at #1 is OMEGA’s Timekeeping and tradition: OMEGA meets Japan which blends beautiful cinematography of peak athleticism with Japanese culture and landscape.


2. Role models say it best

Although most ads feature Olympians, a few G.O.A.T. status athletes are featured in multiple campaigns. Simon Biles makes appearances in both United’s It’s Time to Let Yourself Fly and SK-II’s VS Series. Usain Bolt, who’s now retired, appears in CarMax’s and Peloton’s campaigns, and despite being banned from the 2021 Olympics, brands stood by Sha’Carri Richardson who is featured alongside Nike and Beats by Dre.


3. Who run the world — Girls

Feminist themes are apparent in many of this year’s ads. Female athletes are featured prominently if not exclusively in Nike’s, Eli Lilly’s, SK-II’s, and Beats’ campaigns. Dick’s Sporting Goods There She Is showcases US female athletes looking tougher than ever juxtaposed against the sounds of Jonny Desmond’s soft ballad Miss America.

“The focus of this campaign is defying societal ideals that are placed on individuals and showcasing how beauty, strength and inspiration comes in all forms,” Dick’s CMO Ed Plummer told Adweek. “We hope the ‘There She Is’ thematic continues to elevate and empower athletes beyond the Olympics.”



4. Mental health matters

Perhaps one of the more surprising themes of the Top Ten Most Viewed Video Ads for the 2021 Tokyo Olympics was the callout on mental health and the importance of being true to yourself. Brands remained contextually relevant with ads that mirrored real issues being faced by featured athletes.

Nike’s Best Day Ever paints a picture of a tomorrow where among many other great feats “we will all finally respect athletes’ mental health.”

The Beats by Dre campaign featuring Sha’Carri Richardson encouraged watchers to “Live your truth” and seems to be a direct response to the controversy surrounding her removal from the Games.

SK-II’s animated campaign series features athletes who inspire women to “change their destiny.” In one ad we see Simone Biles battling cyber bullies and insecurities, ultimately overcoming them after a moment of self-reflection.


So what can we expect for Beijing 2022?

Despite low ratings, NBC said Olympic advertiser’s audience guarantees were met, offering make goods — free commercial time where necessary. But the whole experience has left us questioning how advertising will be affected for future games. The morals and brand equity associated with the Olympics is something brands will always want to be associated with, but how they reach them — through linear TV, connected TV or other digital channels will be of high consideration.


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