Which TV Ads Made the Podium During the 2016 Olympics?

Note: Now that the 2016 Games are over, we’ve updated the analysis from the original opening ceremonies post to look at TV ad performance for the entire Olympics.

When the 2016 Olympics kicked off almost three weeks ago, many TV advertisers were crossing their fingers that their strategy would pay off.  Reaching as many as an estimated 27.9 million total viewers in the U.S., they were hoping their ads delivered relevant and compelling creative to the right audiences.  To answer the pay-off question, advertisers will predominately look at three specific areas of performance:

  1. Which ads were noticed by the audience?
  2. Which ads drove interest, shifted perception, and increased intent?
  3. And, which ads drove actual consumer response?

To get some insights into these questions, Google evaluated the top 12 brands totaling over 3.5 billion impressions that aired ads during the NBC broadcasts of the event.  The analysis is based on a combination of consumer surveys and second-screen (mobile, desktop, and tablet) response data. Presented in a live Google Data Studio dashboard, the result is a unique view into the full-funnel performance of the ads evaluated.


Commercials during large, live sporting events like the Olympics are often uniquely created to leverage both the scale of the audience and the context of the event.  Whether it is telling the personal story of an athlete or playing to our passions like patriotism, they are intended to strike an emotional connection, entertain us, or make us stand up and take notice.

Nike’s “Unlimited” ads were the big winner with almost 35% of respondents having remembered seeing the ads when prompted. Including an ad with the first quadruple amputee to summit Mount Kilimanjaro, Nike’s powerful ads outpaced typical recall rates in the 20%-25% range.  Coca Cola was a close second with their “That’s gold” ads which mixed Olympic competition with everyday moments.  Tide, McDonald’s, and Samsung rounded out the top five with respectable recall rates. On overage, ad recall rates for the top five improved 3% percentage points from the initial analysis following the opening ceremonies.

Olympics Ad Recall
Almost 35% of respondents remembered seeing the Nike ads.

Additionally, of those respondents recalling the ad, only 37% could recall the specific product or service featured in the ad.  The net is that only about 13% of viewers can recall both the brand and product in a specific advertisement.  Tide’s”Small can be powerful” ad with Simone Biles had the highest product recall rate at just over 50%.


Advertisers also want the ad to shift perceptions and create interest in the product or service featured.  By surveying both viewers who did not see the ad (unexposed) and those who did see the ad (exposed), we are able to get insights into the impact of each ad’s messaging and creative. Overall, the results were impressive.  On average, respondents who saw the ads were 27% more positive about the associated brands than those who did not.  Likewise, respondents who saw the ads were 32% more likely to find out more and/or purchase the product being advertised.

Compared to the lift measured during the opening ceremonies, both favorability and intent increased significantly over the span of the Olympics increasing ten and twelve percentage points respectively.

Ad Lift in Favorability and Intent
Consumers who saw the ads, were on average, 25% more positive about the brand and were 28% more likely to find out more or purchase the product in the ads.

Interestingly, the baseline favorability and purchase intent for both non-sponsors and Olympic sponsors are relatively equal.  However, non-sponsors saw a greater lift than sponsors with three more percentage points for favorability and seven more percentage points for intent.


These commercials don’t just make us laugh or make us feel better about the brand — they also make us search and visit websites. Second-screen searching—whether it’s to re-engage with the ad or to learn more about the product — is a powerful indication of desire.  By measuring incremental search queries on Google during the broadcast that are specific and modeled to be attributable to ads shown, we are now able to include responses in our analysis.  During the broadcasts, TV ad driven searches were almost exclusively on mobile — 83% compared to an average of 55% for those brands when the ads were not airing.  For brands, that means a presence on the TV screen isn’t complete without a strategy for small screens, as well.

“83% of searches on Google as a result of seeing the ads occurred on phones and another 10% occurred on tablets making a second screen strategy key to TV advertising.”

BMW featured multiple products including a “Performance wheelchair” and garnered the top spot on the podium with a response strength index of 3.21.  McDonald’s and Samsung fought it out for the silver and bronze with 2.01 and 1.57 respectively.  The answer to the question “Do emotional ads work as well as product ads?” is, in this instance, “Yes.”  Both emotional and product ad creatives drove 50% more searches on average.  Also interestingly, ads by non-sponsors drove 17% more searches than their sponsor counterparts.

Indexed Ad Driven Response
Compared to the average of the top 12 ads studied, BMW drove 3.2 times more searches.

Finally, Coca Cola was the overall winner with strong full-funnel performance placing in the top three across all three funnel stages.

Whether people are tuning into the Olympics or their favorite TV show, they use their smartphones to search for information triggered by what they’re seeing.  In these micro-moments, advertisers need to be there, be useful, and be accountable.  That means if you advertise on TV, you can now get a new view of performance across each stage of the funnel — using a combination of consumer surveys and digital response, all in a matter of days.  Armed with these new insights, advertisers are now able to better understand and improve the performance of these investments in concert with their digital media.


Using Google Consumer Surveys to provide consumer ad awareness and interest research, an online survey was conducted in the United States during the period 8/19 – 8/21/16 using a validated, representative sample with a minimum of 700 respondents.  Response data is based on incremental TV ad-driven search queries (Google) during the course of the broadcast that are specific to the ad shown and are modeled by Google Attribution 360 to be attributable to the airings of the commercials. Response data is normalized for total ad impressions during the broadcast for each advertiser.

Happy Analyzing,