10 Ways the 2016 Olympics Won’t Resemble 2014

An abridged version of this post was originally published in VentureBeat as "7 New Ways Brands Will Get Attention at the 2016 Olympics," and this version has been published on LinkedIn as well. If you're reading it for the third time, a) thank you, and b) why?

 With the Olympics now a year away, kicking off August 5, 2016, that may seem like a long time for most of the more than 200 million Americans who watch the summer Games. Yet it’s all too soon for marketers, technology firms, and media companies aiming to capitalize on the attention and interest that the Games generate.

Most of the playbooks marketers used for the 2012 London Olympics and even the 2014 Sochi Olympics will be dusty come the Rio Games. Building on a report we just released, Marketers’ Road to the Olympics, here are ten ways that marketing, media, and technology in 2016 will be different.

1) Secretly social: Hooray, more people will be using social media than ever. Unfortunately for those trying to monitor the chatter and target the chatterers, a lot of that will be happening in private outlets such as WhatsApp and Snapchat. The added social surge during the Games will be a great time to consider which such apps your audience is using and figure out how to reach such consumers who are more reluctant to marketers reaching them.

2) Many devices, consistent campaigns: The Olympics presents one of those perfect, ‘come to Christ the Redeemer’ moments for cross-device targeting. With even casual fans likely following the Games from multiple devices in multiple locations, marketers have opportunities to target them with consistent messages through cross-channel campaigns. A year ahead of the Games, marketers should ensure the various brand, agency, publisher, and technology teams are coordinating efforts.

3) At your service: The 2016 Olympics should be a boon for personal and virtual assistants. Consider that during the 2012 Olympics, NBC reported that 46% of 18- to 54-year-olds said they “delayed doing laundry and other chores” to watch major events such as gymnastics, according to The New York Times. If you have an easy way to clean someone’s home, restock their fridge, walk their dog, or make their bed, August 2016 should be the best time ever to demonstrate value. Then the big question is how to get customers to keep using those services come September.

4) Nolympics: The 2012 Olympics was the most-watched televised event ever in the US, with nearly 220 million American watching the Games. Break it down further, and NBC averaged 31 million viewers nightly. On a given night, that meant most people were doing something else, signaling opportunities for counter-programming. Will there be a Puppy Bowl of the 2016 Olympics – that tent-pole event for people who don’t care enough about athletics or patriotism to watch the Games? Will teens be immune to Olympic hysteria and instead keep logging into sites like Twitch where they’ll watch less athletic people compete in more sedentary games? Even while the Olympics air, much of the programming is relatively dead air between competitions, so marketers and publishers can focus on rolling out compelling mobile-centric experiences to attract multi-screening audiences.

5) The real influencers: While former presidents and current Hollywood celebrities will be among the most recognized ambassadors to the Rio Games, expect a lot of celebrities that most people older than 30 won’t recognize. Vine and Instagram stars such as Jerome Jarre and Fuckjerry will likely field offers to cover the Games for brands, as will many more niche influencers that have devoted audiences. Some Olympic athletes become celebrities during the Games, but to connect with younger Millennials and Gen Z, it’s good to work with the existing idols and icons who speak to them.

6) Up or down Periscope: The International Olympic Committee probably ranks Periscope somewhere between an ISIS attack and double toilet installationson its list of major threats to the Rio Games. If too much good footage is available via unathorized video streaming, that eats into broadcasters’ ad revenue. This year, video streaming from mobile devices has been fluctuating around a hype curve; the expectations for this tactical tool tend to outstrip its utility. Come August 2016, broadcasters will have a golden opportunity to show the value for mobile video streaming on a global scale, or perhaps show why it hasn’t deserved the attention it has already received.

7) Silicon Panda: As China strives to ensure its March of the Volunteers national anthem plays non-stop during the medal ceremonies, expect a surge of activity in Chinese apps, from core messaging apps like WeChat to goofy selfie studios like MomentCam and MyIdol. By 2016, China should have more than 620 million smartphone users, according to eMarketer – or a smartphone user base about twice as large as the entire US population. Brands that are ramping up in China should line up now to place bets on the biggest Chinese mobile social properties and offer exclusive content and deals.

8) Drone’s eye view: There will undoubtedly be all sorts of prohibitions against drones at the Rio Olympics, with regulations likely coming from Brazil’s government (concerned with drone terrorism) and the IOC (concerned with media rights). That’s all the more reason to make some fun drone stunts stand out to show fans a perspective they’ve never experienced before. Additionally, by next summer, automated user-tracking drones such as Lily will be on the market, which will allow people to capture their own Olympian-esque feats even if they didn’t quite quality for the Games.

9) Virtual reality, real hype: Forget who has the wittiest real-time social media post. The real bragging rights for marketers will go to who has the best virtual reality experience. Expect a lot of stunts on location around the Games venues, and other remote experiences for fans to try at stores, hotels, and other venues. Others will toy with more lightweight builds that work with Google Cardboard. Even with all the excitement around VR, this could prove to be the last Summer Olympics for awhile with so much hype about it, as content producers will be paying a premium for buggy technology that requires added hardware and is difficult to scale; by the 2020 Games, VR could go the way of 3D TV. Marketers can enjoy being among the first to market here, even if they’re also among the last.

10) The real value of wearables: Want to get in Olympian shape, or at least get off the couch more? In 2016, athletes endorsing products won’t be talking as much about what fast food sandwiches they’re eating as they will what wearable devices they’re using. Expect some apps to arise that allow people to compare their workouts to the athletes they follow, and get insights and tips from the medalists. Marketers can help create this content, tapping athletes on their payroll. For wearable brands, these real-world examples of athletes using the devices to achieve a meaningful goal may make existing customers brush off their trackers or upgrade to the new version.

This is an abbreviated list. Other themes that will surface include the role of artificial intelligence applications for both businesses and consumers, developments in the mobile payments space, the role of multi-channel networks, further applications of crowdsourcing, and an increasing focus on promoting female athletes in this age of celebrating women’s empowerment. Think a year’s enough time to get ahead of all this as the changes keep coming?