Procter & Gamble is going for marketing gold at the Winter Olympic Games.
The consumer products maker on Thursday unveiled a "Thanks, Mom" campaign, with commercials highlighting the role of U.S. athletes' mothers while also offering them financial help with Vancouver travel expenses. The campaign adds to its earlier support of the team with sponsorship dollars, a Vancouver family meeting place and advertising deals with such stars as skier Lindsey Vonn and speedskater Apolo Anton Ohno.
With P&G slapping the Team USA logo on everything from Pampers diapers to Pringles chips cans in its biggest Olympics involvement yet, marketing experts say the world's biggest advertiser is pulling out all the stops in a broad-based effort to speed up sales that slowed during the recession.
"They're going to do it in a way that rings the cash register," said Rob Prazmark, a veteran Olympic marketer and consultant.
"It's a forum and an opportunity to tell your story and develop different kinds of campaigns," said Kevin Lane Keller, a marketing professor at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth. He said the Winter Games, unlike a one-shot event like the Super Bowl, draw repeat viewers over a couple of weeks.
The company was attracted by the Olympics' appeal for women, teens, 18-to-34-year-olds and other key demographic groups, and will have a multimedia marketing effort, said Kirk Perry, P&G vice president for North America.
The Cincinnati-based maker of Crest toothpaste and Tide detergent is a team sponsor and also is paying for the Family Home, which serves as a meeting place for athletes and families to watch events, eat, and pick up tickets. And athletes with children in diapers can try out a new version of Pampers.
Besides the "Thanks, Mom" commercials, P&G offered athletes' mothers or another key figure in team members' lives pre-loaded debit cards to help with expenses. Amounts weren't disclosed, but P&G officials described them as significant.
"The families of some of our U.S. Olympians are going through a period of hardship with our weakened economy, and the Games can be an extremely expensive experience," Lisa Baird, the U.S. Olympic Committee's chief marketing officer, said in a statement.
P&G won't discuss what it's spending, including an estimated $15 million-$16 million for its Team USA sponsorship that includes the 2012 London Summer Games.
Some key U.S. sponsors including General Motors had pulled out amid the recession, so adding the marketing might of P&G, with an advertising budget of some $8 billion a year, was a coup for the U.S. Olympic Committee.
"The P&G deal saved the USOC sponsorship program from further decline and defections," said Prazmark, who works with the committee. "It showed the marketplace that Olympic marketing was still a valuable commodity if it could attract the likes of P&G."
Meanwhile, he said, studies have shown that effective Olympic campaigns can provide much better brand awareness than typical advertising efforts.
"These things can move market share 2 or 3 percent; when you're dealing with billions of dollars in these categories, moving 1 or 2 percent is a big deal," Prazmark said.
P&G is expected to easily top the $22.6 million Kantar Media reports it spent on 2008 Beijing Games advertising. It has at least 16 U.S. athletes in individual sponsorships deals.