Historically, viewers are glued to the screen for the two week athletic spectacle and are a great platform for political advertisements. According to Nielsen research, 87% of Americans and 70% of the world’s population watched the Beijing 2008 Games. Viewing habits even change, as 76% of viewers “stay up later than usual” and 48% “change their routine” because of the Olympics, according to a Keleman and Associates Survey. The message of the ad lasts longer as well, since Nielsen reports a 78% increase in brand recall and 68% jump in message recall during the Olympics. Meanwhile the NBC affiliates enjoy a 306% increase in ratings while cable offers 554 hours of live coverage over four networks. These increased viewers are also the coveted targets for the campaigns. According to Arbitron research, individuals who watch Olympics are 79% more likely to contribute to a political campaign, 13% more likely to vote in a presidential election, and 9% more likely to be registered to vote.
Even with all the money and attention shown to the two week event, it is still an efficient way to reach viewers. In the DC market, it costs $1000 for a primetime spot on the NBC sports cable networks during the Olympics for a 1.0 rating, compared to $1400 for a .7 rating on Fox News, and $1540 for a .4 on CNN during the same time. Meanwhile on broadcast, a spot on the late local news immediately following the Olympics gets a 7.4 rating for $5000, compared to reruns of the Office for a 2.7 rating for $8000 during the rest of the summer. While the campaigns are spending millions, they are reaching millions of potential voters in return.
In addition to audience and cost efficiency opportunities, the Olympics provide unique messaging possibilities for the campaigns as well. Viewers tuning in to root for American athletes will be turned off by negative ads that have become the staple of political advertising. Therefore, the Olympics offer a reprieve as the campaigns turn to patriotic optimistic messaging with plenty of red white and blue in the background. In particular, the Romney campaign will most likely focus on his positive role in the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games, while Michelle Obama will lead the U.S. delegation to the opening ceremonies.
Both campaigns realize this golden advertising opportunity and hope to be standing on top of a podium in victory as well come November.