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French advertisers eye the opportunity of a century in Paris 2024

A black and white wicker basket holding baguettes, the French flag, and a streaming remote control.

Illustration by Robyn Phelps / Getty / The Current

It could hardly get more symbolic than this.

In 1924, Paris hosted the Summer Olympics, a “coming of age” edition that saw the Olympics broadcast on the radio for the first time. A century later, streaming services have taken over from radio and Paris is once again preparing to host the Games.

For the brands sponsoring them, this is a once-in-a-century opportunity to ride the worldwide growth of live sports on CTV and showcase their French identity, savoir-faire, and capabilities in front of billions.

And of course, help drive sales.

“It's a super interesting opportunity for brands to convey this message of gathering people beyond their differences,” says Sébastien Houdusse, chief strategy officer at BETC Fullsix, which works with Olympic sponsors Danone, FDJ, and EDF as well as LVMH, although not in an Olympic capacity.

“Most societies in the world are more divided than ever before, and it's also the case in French society.”

Why it matters

The way French brands approach Olympic advertising in the age of CTV can set a template for advertisers during other huge sporting events, such as the upcoming FIFA World Cup 2026 in the U.S. and the Winter Olympics 2026 in Italy.

French advertisers may well turn to streaming giants for Olympics ad inventory, when considering CTV’s better targeting capabilities compared to linear TV, something that French commercial broadcasters TF1 and M6 have jumped on by adopting EUID.

“If you take the pre-digital age, it was physically impossible for, say, the BBC, or media rights holders to broadcast 10,000 hours of content in 17 days,” Jérôme Parmentier, vice president, media rights and content partnerships at the International Olympic Committee, told WARC.

“What digital has allowed us to do is to place an obligation on our broadcasters through their digital platforms to put those 10,000 hours out.”

That doesn’t mean legacy broadcasters won’t put up a fight. “We do not think the impact of streaming should be overestimated,” says Guillaume Perrin, principal analyst, sports, at Dataxis, pointing out that French public broadcaster France Televisions holds the free-to-air rights to the Olympics and will broadcast them on its streaming service, The fact that French audiences strongly associate the broadcaster with the Games will make it a “rendezvous point,” Perrin adds.

But Warner Bros. Discovery, which holds the Olympics’ rights in Europe, may have an edge. Marketers can reach a niche sport’s most ardent fans through its programmatic WBD Stream platform, which gives them the scale and precision that programmatic guaranteed or direct deals simply can’t match.

The Olympic opportunity

Brands leveraging Olympic clout is not new. What is new is how different the CTV world looks from the last Olympics, held in Tokyo just three years ago.

The world’s largest streamers — bar Apple — have now all introduced ad-supported models, and consumers have eagerly signed up.

Globally, over-the-top (OTT) video viewers have increased 21% since 2021. Advertisers have noticed: CTV ad spend is projected to hit $29 billion in the U.S. alone this year, up from $17.3 billion in 2021.

Live sports, with marquee events like the Super Bowl, FIFA World Cup, and India’s IPL final, have emerged as drivers of growth for streamers worldwide. Warner Bros. Discovery’s European launch of Max in May this year looks timed to maximize viewership during the Games, especially in France.

In the French market, only the FIFA World Cup can compare when it comes to reach. The 2022 final, hosted in Paris, saw an average of more than 24 million French viewers tune in. In contrast, the Tokyo Olympics saw record ratings with more than 50 million in France watching the Games throughout the competition, even with the time difference.

“The Olympic Games provide an unparalleled global marketing platform, allowing companies to associate with one of the most recognised brands in the world, as well as the unique, inspirational values of the Olympic Movement,” Benjamin Seeley, head of marketing communications at the International Olympic Committee, tells The Current.

Zoom in

The influence of Olympic advertising will be tested this year, as French brands bet that their marketing efforts can do more than lift sales. They are hoping to change culture.

For travel brands like Air France and Accor, Olympic advertising is an opportunity to shed stereotypes associated with France, such as its supposedly unwelcoming culture and low service standards, says Houdusse.

For others, like food giant Danone, it’s a chance to build the corporate image of the brand on a global stage and highlight its status as a French national champion, Houdusse adds. Global sporting retailer Decathlon, meanwhile, unveiled a new rebrand last month as it bets Olympic fever will inspire more sales of sports equipment.

For luxury giant LVMH, the stakes are perhaps the highest among all sponsors. It became the world’s premier luxury firm in part by successfully commercializing European craftsmanship and heritage, through brands like Loewe and Rimowa. Its highly publicized sponsorship may gift it countless brand awareness opportunities but will also place its activations under intense global scrutiny.

“The Games are in Paris and LVMH represents the image of France. We couldn’t not be a part of it,” Head of Communication and Image Antoine Arnault told The Wall Street Journal.

The conglomerate has enlisted the likes of French rugby star Antoine Dupont in its Olympics’ soft-power offensive. From its roster, haute jewellery house Chaumet will design the medals, while leather goods maker Berluti will dress French athletes.

That should provide plenty of opportunities for the firm to make the most of its Olympic investment while milking the scale afforded by global streaming broadcasts.

"Sport is one of the very few 'global languages' available for brands to communicate to all people in the world without the risk of a faux pas," Luca Solca, a senior luxury goods analyst at the Bernstein Autonomous investment research group, told AFP.

The bottom line

Still, the Olympics, with all their reach and popularity, may not be the best choice for all brands. “They are less effective than other big sporting events, such as the Ligue 1 in France or sponsorships of major athletes, in terms of brand equity,” says Houdusse.

Nonetheless, this year’s edition is an unmissable opportunity for French brands. Those that get involved will have to go beyond catchy slogans and flashy ads.

“The brands that are going to win are the ones that bring something important, concrete and tangible to French people, but also to the guests of the event coming from all over the world,” says Houdusse.