London and New York - Steak, the search-inspired communications agency, reveals that during the 2008 Olympics, advertisers in both the U.K. and U.S. largely failed to take advantage of their national teams' gold rush by using the immediacy of paid search marketing to promote themselves online.

Collectively, the U.K. and U.S. won 55 gold medals at the 2008 Olympic Games, finishing fourth and second, respectively, behind gold medal leader China. Analysis of search traffic showed significant spikes in interest in top athletes following their gold medal wins, signaling an opportunity for sponsors, news organisations and other advertisers to connect with interested consumers. Steak’s research, however, reveals that few seized the opportunity to use paid search to capitalise on a positive association with the Olympic stars. Search ads appeared against only 35% of the U.K. and U.S. gold medalists’ names, and furthermore, those that were advertising weren’t always getting it right.

A search for super sailor Ben Ainslie revealed no results, nor did a query for cycling’s king and queen, Bradley Wiggins and Victoria Pendleton. Their G.B. teammate, swimmer Rebecca Adlington, who publicly declared her love for luxury shoe brands, might have prompted a shoe retailer to piggyback on her success by using paid search to encourage fans to check out her preferred footwear, but this wasn’t the case.

Cyclist Geraint Thomas fared worse. A search for his name brought up an interesting but wholly irrelevant set of ads for explosion detonation experts, the travel giant Thomas Cook and Thomas the Tank Engine trains, neatly demonstrating the need for negative keyword selection in search campaigns.

Search interest in U.S. swimmer Michael Phelps, winner of a record eight gold medals, skyrocketed in the week between August 10th and August 17th, according to an analysis of Google Trends data. Yet, Steak's research indicates companies that support Phelps, such as Speedo and PureSport performance drinks, began running paid search ads against Phelps after the level of interest had subsided. Similarly, Kerri Walsh and Misty May-Treanor, the popular winners of the women's beach volleyball gold medal, failed to generate much interest from advertisers: neither their sponsors nor the AVP or FIVB beach volleyball tours, in which both athletes compete, were found to capitalise on their Olympic success. Even the renowned Williams sisters, winners of the women's doubles gold medal in tennis, elicited little in the way of advertiser interest.

Other organisations, including non-profits, news providers and public records directories stepped in to fill the breach. In the U.K. the RNLI ran ads against sailors Pippa Wilson and Sarah Ayton (although not against their teammate, Sarah Webb). In the U.S. an ad for i-SAFE, a non-profit foundation promoting Internet safety education, appeared for both Walsh and May, to promote a public service announcement that they had taped for i-SAFE. In a similar vein, the non-profit Athletes for Hope began running ads against the names of several members of the U.S. women's soccer team who are part of the organisation's roster.

News organisations and aggregators, including CNN, The Sun and Newser, appeared for some athletes but their efforts were not necessarily consistent with the level of interest in the medalists themselves.

Steak’s Associate Head of Insight, Gemma Barnard, comments ‘The huge rise in search volume clearly demonstrated a demand for information about these athletes. This demand presented an opportunity for advertisers to engage with searchers, and deliver timely and compelling advertisements that direct people to relevant and useful landing pages. Given the immediacy with which a search campaign can be made live, many advertisers missed out on opportunities of literally Olympic proportions."

About Steak:
Steak is the search-inspired communications agency. Steak’s mission is to bring the intelligence of search to all marketing communications – both online and offline and from media to design. Following phenomenal growth in 2007, Steak was named Media Agency of the Year at the Interactive Marketing and Advertising Awards in the UK. Steak’s clients include Virgin Holidays, Time Out, British Gas, John Lewis, 118 118 and Swiftcover. Steak’s services include search engine marketing (both search engine optimisation and paid search), display advertising, digital design, reputation management, and social media marketing.
Steak has offices in London, New York and Melbourne.


Jocelyn Bull

020 7420 3515

Note: findings based on an analysis of Google Trends data for the 30 days prior to August 23, 2008, combined with manual searches on the athletes' names, August 22-23, 2008

Published on: 12:00AM on 2nd September 2008