Although many companies are keen to latch onto major sports events (such as the forthcoming Winter Olympics in Sochi) with new advertising campaigns, these do not always generate higher sales figures. In fact, according to Maarten Gijsenberg, Assistant Professor of Marketing at the University of Groningen, the direct effect on sales is much lower during major sports events than at other times. His study of 206 brands in 64 supermarket categories is published in the
International Journal of Research in Marketing
Sales increase automatically during major sports events, possibly because the positive and enthusiastic atmosphere encourages consumer confidence. ‘But this is not necessarily thanks to advertising’, says Gijsenberg. ‘The direct effect of advertising on sales during these events is actually 75% below normal.’ Gijsenberg: ‘It makes no difference whether the product is connected to the event concerned. The impact on sales of beer and crisps (which are part of the event experience) or deodorant and shower gel (which relate to the sport involved in the event), is the same as for articles that are in no way connected with the event, such as butter, washing powder or detergents.’
Gijsenberg claims that consumer distraction may be a possible cause. Consumers get caught up in the event itself and are more likely to forget advertising messages, making it less likely that they will buy the product (or more of the product) being advertised. Another possible explanation is that consumers find themselves so inundated with advertising messages that none of them stick in their minds. Each individual message simply disappears into the depths of the advertising soup.
So increasing advertising output during the Sochi Olympics or World Cup football would not seem to be the best strategy for boosting sales. ‘But there is a situation in which it can be profitable’, says Gijsenberg. ‘A brand that launches a highly intensive campaign, outdoing its rivals, stands a good chance of becoming the metaphorical croutons in the soup. The message then won’t be lost in the mass.’
However, a huge extra investment like this only has an impact on sales during events at which just one sport is played (such as World Cup football), and not during events featuring several different sports (such as the Olympic Games). Gijsenberg: ‘This is probably because the people who follow the World Cup, for instance, are extremely focused and watch the event from start to finish. Companies find it easier to appeal to the imaginations of these consumers, so the message tends to stay in the front rather than the back of their minds. Although Sochi will attract a wide audience, viewers will only be watching certain parts of the event.’
According to Gijsenberg, advertising during the Games in Sochi is not entirely pointless. ‘Obviously you can improve sales figures by offering discounts or other deals, such as free Wuppies. In this case, advertising c pay off, and have an indirect effect on sales figures.’ Companies aiming to improve their image rather than their direct sales figures, however, may also benefit from the positive emotions and associations that an event can project onto their brand.
Contact: Dr Maarten Gijsenberg
, M.J. (2014), ‘Going for Gold. Investigating the (Non)Sense of Increased Advertising around Major Sports Events,’ International Journal of Research in Marketing, Vol. 31(1).
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