Last year marked the sixth time since 1896 a modern Olympics was either postponed or cancelled. Historically this sort of last resort measure is reserved for times of war; the first during World War I and last during World War II. Postponing the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics put NBCUniversal in a very difficult position; with 90% of its ad space for the Summer Games already reserved (to the tune of about $1.25 billion) by advertisers, there was little the media giants could do without causing needless catastrophe.
In lieu of starting over from scratch, NBCUniversal introduced an AI-powered learning tool aimed at sponsors to entice them with ad space for, both, the 2021 Summer Olympics and 2022 Winter Olympics. They call it the Olympics Ad Engine; an AI platform that carefully analyzes the creative elements of past Olympics commercials — everything from storyboards to talent — to determine what made it successful and how it can be modified.
To achieve this feat in wiser advertising practices, the NBCUniversal Insights and Measurement team combined machine learning with human curation by working with companies like Hive, iSpot.tv, Phoenix, and EDO to study more than 600 ads from the past two Olympics games. Of those hundreds of commercials, the team tagged 897 creative elements — ranging from the tone of a spot to the presence of food — to understand what resonates with audiences and how it can be replicated going forward.
With these data points catalogued in the Olympics Ad Engine, marketers have the chance to modify current ads in hopes of matching the proven success of the Games’ most successful spots. When analyzing the data, OAE considers five key marketing objectives using a Bayesian statistical model to judge an ad with the following factors: awareness, ad breakthrough, perception, engagement and search impact. NBCU hopes advertisers see this dynamic AI tool as a safety net for an event tuned in by billions (with a b) of people worldwide.
“We think that CMOs (Chief Marketing Officers) need tools to make really tough decisions,” said executive VP of sales and partnerships for NBC Sports, Dan Lovinger, in an interview with AdWeek. “For major events like the Super Bowl and Olympics, the biggest hurdle for CMOs is often the creative hurdle because of the opportunity for ridicule.”
So, how does it work? Think of it like sending the draft of your story to a group of your best professional writer friends. The Olympics Ad Engine picks apart the key creative elements of the work and compares it to hundreds of the most successful elements from top-performing content of the past five years. From there, marketers are presented with results that calculate the likelihood of a spot resonating with audiences; valuable feedback from an informed source based on proven success.
NBC Universal slated to drop the Olympics Ad Engine last year, but were delayed due COVID — an unexpected opportunity to perfect the dynamic AI tool just in time for the 2021 Olympics. With so much data to work on, the question remains: will the Olympics Ad Engine lead to a more homogenized (i.e. boring) viewing experience? Tune in on Friday, July 23, 2021 to find out yourself.