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Industry medals in Olympic advertising

WINNING STRATEGY In its Olympic ads, Home Depot features athletes who are also Home Depot employees. The company sponsors 130 athletes through the U.S. Olympic Committee Job Opportunities Program.

Adiverse group of home channel companies competed in Olympic promotions and tie-ins this year, with some seriously growing their participation in the games.

The Beijing Olympics offered a vast stage for home improvement marketers. The first four days of the games drew an estimated 157 million television viewers in the United States, an 11 percent increase from the comparable period at the 2004 Olympics in Athens.

Home Depot, once again, distinguished itself with prominent sponsorships of the U.S. Olympic team and its heart-string-tugging ads featuring athletes who also happen to be Home Depot employees—part of the U.S. Olympic Committee Job Opportunities Program. The ads, produced by Dallas-based ad agency the Richards Group, feature across-section of the 37 Home Depot-employed athletes who qualified for the 2008 Summer Olympics and Paralympic Games. In all, Home Depot currently sponsors 130 athletes through the program.

“The Olympic movement is unique in its universal appeal,” explained Home Depot spokeswoman Jean Niemi. “The program also allows us to find talented associates, who are hard working, disciplined and dedicated.”

The company has been involved in the jobs program since 1992. There are several goals of the sponsorship, but one of the biggest Niemi said is this—by aiding those high achieving athletes, the program exemplifies the slogan “You can do it. We can help.” in a very real way, she said. And perhaps most importantly, Niemi pointed out that the jobs program “has created tremendous internal good will.”

Home Depot is not the only home channel retailer with close ties to the games. Canadian retailer RONA started with its Olympic sponsorship program at the 2006 Turino Winter Olympics, with plans to continue sponsoring Canadian Olympic and Paralympic athletes through 2012.

RONA’s program is called “Growing with our Athletes,” and its goal is helping support athletes with living, training and competition expenses. RONA spokeswoman Eva Boucher-Hartling said athletes who are part of the program—including 34 at the Beijing games—are each associated with certain stores across the country, and they appear in community events near those locations throughout the year.

“We believe in ‘building’ the games, just as we’re providing tools and materials for the home improvement projects of all Canadians,” said Boucher-Hartling, commenting on the philosophy of RONA’s Olympic sponsorships. “Visibility during the Olympics is also key for RONA. And, of course, we’re a proudly Canadian company.”

The company launched a series of nine television ads throughout its Canadian markets in conjunction with the Olympic sponsorships. But those advertisements, and RONA’s Beijing sponsorship in general, had another chief goal—highlighting the retailer‘s heavy involvement in the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games.

“The Beijing Olympics are a jump-off to Vancouver 2010,” Boucher-Hartling said.

Official Olympic Games sponsorships offer a worldwide audience. Notably, some Chinese companies have taken advantage of this opportunity in their Olympics sponsorships.

One prime example is DER Floor—the Chinese flooring division of Suzhou-based DER Group is the official floor supplier for the Olympic Games and the sole floor supplier for Paralympic Games.

DER Floor is no small time player—with operations in 31 Chinese provinces, 1,600 franchised stores and 10,000 employees in the country, the prominent Olympic sponsorship makes sense.

And then there’s Haier, the top appliances producer in China and a company that has been making a steady bid to build its name overseas, especially in the United States.

As an official sponsor of the Games, Haier has provided funds and home appliances to the Olympic and Paralympic games. The company was selected for the three-tier sponsorship alongside other companies, a number of which were China-based, such as Bank of China and China Mobile. Additionally, Haier is based in Qingdao, one of the “partner” cities for the Olympic games. Since Qingdao is the site of all sailing events in this year‘s Olympics, Haier chose a sailing logo for its sponsorship and prominent sponsorships alongside those events at the Games.

GE recently announced that it surpassed a $1.7 billion company-wide sales goal for the Olympic games. The largest chunk of that came from advertising revenues for GE’s NBC Universal division, as well as revenue from nearly 400 infrastructure projects in and around Beijing. The conglomerate was able to highlight its “Ecomagination” business as well as its water purification business as part of those building projects.

What the Beijing games have offered, perhaps above all else, is not merely a platform for worldwide exposure, but a window into the Chinese consumer market, which will become increasingly important to home improvement companies in the future. Home channel eyes will undoubtedly remain on the country long after the Olympic athletes, and sponsors, have departed.