As everyone knows, the Olympics are about more than sports. They’re about the human spirit and the whole world coming together as one. Or at least, that’s what we’ve been told over the years by commercials seeking to capitalize on the popularity of the Games in order to sell more cheeseburgers and laundry detergent.
Now, if that sounds like a cynical interpretation of Olympic commercials—well, I guess it is. But I will admit that, even though I know commercials are just trying to sell me stuff, and that Nike doesn’t really give a crap whether I realize my full potential, these stupid things still inspire me. And I’m willing to bet there are other people out there who feel the same way.
So today, in honor of the 2012 Summer Olympics and the Opening Ceremonies, here are 15 great Olympic-themed commercials. I don’t want to give too much away, because it’s best to be surprised, but here’s a hint: half of them have Morgan Freeman narrating. So you know they’re good.
Why don’t you check them out?
These days, most Olympics-themed commercials don't focus on the great champions. Instead, they usually focus on the little guys, the ones who simply made it to the olympics against all odds. But this Visa ad takes a different approach by focusing on how insanely close the (arguably) greatest Olympic champion ever was to not being the greatest. Such is the nature of sport, right?
15. One-Hundreth (Visa, 2012)
This Powerade commercial is so slick, it's worthy of Gatorade. In fact, it probably made them jealous.
14. Second in History (Powerade, 2012)
This IBM commercial from 1998 was ahead of its time. After all, that was pretty early on in the internet age. Most people still had to plug their computers into a phone jack and listen to squiggly machine sounds for 10 minutes just to check their email back then. But this ad really nails the significance of the internet in the coming decades: connectedness, any time, anywhere.
13. We Won (IBM, 1998)
So apparently the Olympics demographic has a significantly greater percentage of female viewers than regular sports events. Thus, companies like Procter & Gamble (makers of Tide, Pampers, and Crest) really like to make ads targeting moms during the games. (Sorry, non-mother females. They don't care about you, even though you do laundry, too.) This commercial is one of the better ones, and a perfect example of something I mentioned in the intro. Namely, even though I know they don't care about anyone and just want to sell more stuff, the commercial is quite moving.
12. What I See (P&G, 2012)
Like so many Olympics commercials, this one has very little to do with the services actually sold by AT&T. There's just a vague reference to "possibilities," which I guess you could say the telecom giant offers to consumers. Nevertheless, it's a pretty cool-looking commercial made even cooler by the surprising use of Lou Reed's "Perfect Day." (Though I'm sure it disappointed hipsters everywhere to see one of their idols sell out—oh, wait, hipsters don't watch TV unless they're doing it ironcially. I forgot.)
11. Perfect Day (AT&T, 2010)
This one's pretty simple and, once again, has nothing to do with the product advertised. But it has cool old footage and tells a heart-warming story I had never heard. So it gets a B+.
10. To Sponsor is to Believe (Coca Cola, 1996)
Visa has been on the forefront of inspirational Olympics commercials for decades, and this is a great example. They kind of beat you over the head with the simplicity of their story telling. I'm surprised Morgan Freeman even speaks in full sentences, because the gist of the commercial comes across is short phrases—Dan Jansen, dead sister, failure, redemption, daughter named after dead sister. It's so stark and contrary to what we're used to seeing that it really makes an impression.
9. Dan Jansen (Visa, 2010)
This is what you might call a "poignant" Olympics commercial. (Or you also might call it kind of a bummer.) But war and genocide aren't exactly fun and games, so as far as depressing commercials go, this one is pretty good.
8. The Children of Sarajevo (John Hancock, 1998)
It's good to lighten things up a bit after that Sarajevo commercial, isn't it? Westpack is an Australian bank that sponsors Aussie Olympians. While the idea for the commercial is kind of silly, it makes a good point: some of the stuff these athletes do is more amazing than we often realize. I'm surprised they didn't have someone try pole vaulting, cause that would be hilarious.
7. What If (Westpack, 2008)
There were probably like 50 commercials featuring the Dream Team in 1992, but this one was selected for it's awesome acting. (Yeah, I'm talking about you, Patrick Ewing.)
Of course, there was an even better McDonald's commercial around this time featuring Jordan and Bird playing horse for Jordan's Big Mac. But since that one doesn't really reference the Olympics, I couldn't justify making it the official #6 commercial. Instead, I'm just throwing it in as a bonus:
6. The Dream Team (McDonald's, 1992)
This Visa "Go World" ad gets a spot in the top 5 because it's Morgan Freeman at his best. I mean, the dude just totally narrates the sh*t out of this commercial. I think the coup de grâce is the little chuckle at the 0:46 mark. It's basically the Shawshank Redemption of Visa commercials. I practically expect him to start talking about old Andy Dufresne.
5. Go World (Visa, 2012)
First of all, you just can't go wrong with the Rolling Stones. It had to cost Omega a pretty penny to use "Start Me Up" in the commercial, so this might be one of the more expensive commercials to produce. But then you ad the slick photography and editing, and this one might just turn out to be an all-time classic.
4. Start Me Up (Omega, 2012)
This commercial would have been a serious contender for the #1 spot on this list if not for Cristiano Ronaldo making an appearance in the first 10 seconds. The very notion that a whiny baby like Ronaldo has soul is laughable. But, aside from that, the commercial is pretty awesome. And the best part, in my estimation, is the last shot of the guy with prosthetic legs sprinting. If that doesn't make you want to get off your couch and do something, nothing will.
3. Everything You Need (Nike, 2008)
I'll admit, this one had me going for a second. I was thinking, yeah, but this is a commercial. Then Visa goes and shows that, yeah, they know they're greedy opportunists. It's a rare moment of honesty in advertising and, also, pretty damn funny.
2. Commercialization (Visa, 2000)
Well, taking the top spot is another sentimental commercial. And again, while I realize they're just trying to sell detergent, it still make me want to call my mother. So I'd say that's some pretty effective advertising. Nice work, Procter & Gamble.