While a number of brands jumped on board the Winter Olympics promo train ahead of this year’s event, other major global brands failed to do so – even the sponsors were notably silent in the run-up to the Winter Olympics that kicked off earlier this month.

The marketing surrounding the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics was somewhat uncertain when it did appear, and unmissable when it didn’t. We took a look at the brands that skied straight in, and those that watched from the slopes, and the reasons for both.

Approach 1: Product promotion

The best campaign for this year’s Winter Olympics, in our opinion, has to go to Samsung for creating a short but energising film that is product-promoting, yet topical. The film sees multiple winter athletes performing both their sport and their ‘second sport’, which helps to connect different global communities and, in doing so, create a sense of unity when the past couple of years have been so disjointed. Samsung cleverly links a topical subject – environmental sustainability – to its brand, with the snowboarder featured claiming his second sport is ‘cleaning the ocean’. The brand ties itself into the Winter Olympics by streaming these sports via its new foldable Galaxy Z Flip3, promoting the message of Samsung being a ‘proud sponsor of the world coming together’. Shortly after, it was announced that all Winter Olympics and Paralympics athletes would be receiving the Galaxy Z Flip3 5G smartphone, making it the first foldable phone distributed to participants at an Olympic Games. Clearly, Samsung’s main goal was that of product promotion – a space it has dominated during the Winter Olympics, partly due to other brands’ silence.

Approach 2: Sentimentality plays

P&G’s (Procter & Gamble) ‘Always There’ campaign was noticeable for another reason. The campaign stars American snowboarder Chloe Kim, who was the youngest woman to win an Olympic snowboarding gold medal at the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea. The one-minute video explored Kim’s relationship with her father and his involvement through her career, ending with the powerful tag line of: ‘Because you’re always there. I am here’. P&G’s campaign triggers more of a sentimental and emotional response, in comparison to Samsung’s more upbeat vibes. Interestingly, both P&G and Samsung utilise ‘unity’ and ‘togetherness’ as key values in their campaigns, but portray these principles differently.

Approach 3: Chinese brand promotion

Within China, there was undoubtedly a marketing movement to celebrate the Winter Olympics given Beijing is playing host to the event. Fuse (part of Omnicom Media Group) reported that 43% of Chinese sponsorship deals in the first half of 2021 were associated with the Winter Olympics, which surpassed the popularity of esports sponsorship that had dominated Chinese sponsorship deals previously. In 2020 and 2021, meanwhile, there were over 250 Olympic-related marketing deals struck involving Chinese brands. Much like the rest of global operations, however, China’s promotional materials were not produced without obstacles created by the Coronavirus pandemic. China’s 100 Day Countdown video took some manpower to film, with certain production companies declining the filming opportunity due to the lack of snow in Beijing. After altitude sickness took out actors, cinematographers, creatives and the director, the shoot finally produced a piece of marketing that highlighted China’s journey between 2008 – when it hosted the Summer Olympics – and 2022. Ultimately, as the Games came closer, the message was refined to be that China ‘was ready’ for staging the Beijing Winter Olympics.

Approach 4: Brand silence

With the Olympics formed with the universal principles of dedication, persistence, bravery, support, compassion, strength and endurance behind them, there are plenty of opportunities for companies to hook their products and their brands onto one of such values. Yet many brands stayed quiet despite investing millions. We saw industry leaders, such as Coca-Cola, play no part in creating a global campaign for this year’s Winter Olympics, despite being a major sponsor of the event. Many other global brands and sponsors of the Beijing Games also decided on this approach for political reasons. The USA, UK and a number of other countries have announced diplomatic boycotts of the event. Multiple brands considered the risks associated with a full-blown marketing campaign around the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics too high. The result? Inaction.