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The Summer Olympics is undeniably the biggest international sporting event in the world. That’s why big brands drop millions of dollars buying up ad space during the major events. Games that are guaranteed to draw hundreds of millions of eyeballs are a big opportunity for companies to boost sales and brand awareness.

The upcoming Olympic Games in Rio will present marketers with unparalleled opportunities to engage a wider audience. Marketers with small advertising budgets can rejoice in the fact that the social and digital components of advertising have ballooned in recent years. This is your chance to use social media to your advantage. Below I’m going to let you know a few ways to capitalize on the Olympics without actually being a sponsor.

Hashtags!

Unless you’re willing to spend big money engaging your audience, hashtags can be a marketer’s best friend. By using an Olympic hashtag, all social media account users can see it – especially those following the Olympics. Hashtags are everywhere for a reason; they are a low-effort, high-reward way to give your brand exposure to anyone who happens to be searching for that particular tag.

While the US Olympic Committee is reportedly trying to restrict use of certain hashtags (yes really!) this strategy is unlikely to succeed. On social media, users ultimately have the final say. And if they don’t like your hashtag, they’ll create their own.

Draw relevance to your brand

Chances are your business is not in the sporting and apparel industry, but this shouldn’t stop you from using the Olympics to your advantage. After all, if McDonald’s can use the Olympics to sell greasy burgers, you can probably use the events to draw relevance to your brand as well.

This is where you have to get creative. What aspect of the Olympics aligns with your brand? What aspect of your product and service would appeal to the potentially billions of viewers who are tuning into the games? Answering this question can help you get the headway you need into this market.

Start early

If you’re reading this and still haven’t started your marketing campaign, what exactly have you been doing? The big brands usually start advertising months in advance in order to reap the full benefits.

“It may seem a bit premature, but it’s pretty typical for brands to start capitalizing on the Olympics 100 days prior,” said Basia Wojcik, director of Olympic consulting at The Marketing Arm. “Especially in the US; this is when NBC starts their promotions, so it makes sense.”

Invoke national pride

Aligning your advertising campaign around national pride is one of the most effective ways to promote your brand during the Olympics. This makes perfect sense, given that 207 countries will be participating in the events. If you’re an American company, start off by displaying the red, white and blue version of your products. Invoking the themes of teamwork, courage, determination and national heroes is a great way to resonate in your home market (or any other market you’re operating in).

Timing is everything

In the world of social media, timing is everything. The most well executed marketing campaign won’t get you very far if they are not timed around major events. If your national team just won the gold medal, be sure to congratulate them on social media. You may also want to consider adjusting your messaging as the games progress. During a high profile event like the Olympics, it’s important that you resonate with your audience on an emotional level. After all, sports move is in many emotional ways. Ensuring you are responding to those emotional cues is important during the 16-day tournament.

Do you have an Olympic themed marketing campaign lined up?

By Charli Day, writer and social media manager