2012 Olympics ads: Winners and losers

The capitalist competition to capture the brand loyalty of consumers watching the Olympics has produced its own share of triumphs and defeats

Nike ad
(Image credit: YouTube)

For better or worse, NBC has devoted an unprecedented amount of TV airtime and internet bandwidth to covering the 2012 Olympics in London — and that, of course, has meant an onslaught of "inspiring" commercials. Like the athletes themselves, not all ads are created equal. From the precision tear-jerkers to the poorly conceived head-scratchers, here are eight of the most and least successful TV ads from the 2012 London Games:


1. Procter & Gamble's homage to mom

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

The maker of Tide and Pampers essentially "dares you not to cry" with its spot, "Best Job," says UPI's Kate Stanton. A reworking of its successful 2010 Olympics ad campaign, says Meg Carter at Fast Company, "P&G pushes raw emotion to the tear-jerking nth degree with its depiction of mothers worldwide raising children to become champions and sharing their triumph." Dads apparently just watch TV:

2. London's official celebration of the Olympics, and itself

In its official TV promotion for the 2012 Games, "Sport at Heart," host city London went all out: Bankers in bowler hats fence with their umbrellas, street sweepers play an impromptu game of field hockey, hotel porters perform gymnastic routines. And don't miss the stars: Helen Mirren, David Beckham, Roger Moore, Jeremy Irons, says UPI's Stanton. "See if you can pick out all the famous Brits" making cameos:

4. Nike's search for the best in everyone

Unlike Adidas, Nike isn't an official sponsor of the 2012 Games. This ad, "Find Your Greatness," is part of its clever bid "to join the Olympics conversation without paying sponsorship fees — or nasty fines for breaking the rules," says Fast Company's Carter. Nike skirts the "brand police" by celebrating "everyday folks and local athletes of all ages and skill levels in less glamorous Londons — those in Ohio, Canada, Jamaica, Nigeria, Norway, and elsewhere," says David Gianatasio at AdWeek. It's a good message, and "the Olympic poobahs are such self-righteous, cash-crazed cretins that I'm tempted to praise any and all efforts that skewer their endorsement-fueled pomposity":


1. Nike's dig at the chubby kid

Nike's "Greatness" campaign, unfortunately, has also produced one of the games' most loathed ads: This static shot of a 200-pound 12-year-old kid jogging slowly toward the camera, with a voice intoning: "Somehow we’ve come to believe that greatness is a gift reserved for a chosen few... We're all capable of it. All of us." Everybody is "freaking out" about the ad, says Lindy West at Jezebel, because it looks like Nike is selling shoes by shaming a "fat kid" into losing weight, and "that's creepy and depressing." The insidious message is "fat = lazy," and, honestly, "I find Jared from Subway more inspiring....":

2. Apple's disastrous "Genius" ads

"Apple ads are almost always compelling and buzz-worthy," says Jacquelyn Smith at Forbes, but the new slate of "Genius" ads it debuted for the Olympics — in which an official Apple whiz helps clueless Mac users perform simple tasks — is earning less-favorable adjectives: "Cringe-worthy," "intellectually cheap," and "poorly executed," for example. The naysayers are right, says Robert Hof at Forbes. These ads, like the "Mayday" spot below, "made Apple users look like idiots, something that clearly didn’t fit Apple’s brand." To Apple's credit, it quickly "spiked the campaign before it did any more damage":

3. NBC's horribly timed monkey gymnast

In and of itself, NBC's Olympics-themed promotion for its new fall show Animal Practice isn't that offensive. Too bad they chose to air it "at the most inopportune time," says Timothy Burke at Deadspin. Bob Costas had just editorialized about black U.S. gymnast "Gabby Douglas's all-around gold medal ending stereotypes and tearing down racial barriers," when the Peacock Network ran this ad featuring a monkey doing gymnastics. "That's... unfortunate":

4. McDonald's annoying boxing gadfly

American flyweight boxer Marlen Esparza earned a bronze medal in London, says Tim Nudd at AdWeek, but her bigger challenge "may have been summoning the willpower not to punch her co-star while filming this McDonald's spot." The premise is that a chicken sandwich–toting McDonald's customer steps in to offer Esparza clueless coaching tips so she'll win the gold — thus qualifying the customer to win a prize. Even skirting the question of why a fast-food chain is sponsoring the Olympics, the ad is "pretty annoying across the board":

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.