NBCUniversal deploys AI to help Olympics marketers shape creative in divisive time

The tool uses machine learning to examine the efficacy of nearly 700 past Olympic ads and provide suggestions to improve advertisers' messaging.

NBCUniversal deploys AI to help Olympics marketers shape creative in divisive time

NBCUniversal is tapping artificial intelligence and human curation to help marketers shape their creative messaging for the Tokyo Olympics this summer, at a time when divisiveness has made advertising increasingly challenging. 

The media giant unveiled its new Olympics Ad Engine, a digital tool that examines past performance data of Olympics-related creative to help advertisers design content that will meet their marketing objectives in 2021.

The OAE uses a mix of human curation and artificial intelligence to analyze the available pool of marketing data, with those learned insights then being applied to scripts, storyboards and rough cuts of ads before suggesting modifications that may allow them to have a greater impact on consumers.

When advertisers are dealing with an event on the scale of the Olympics or the Super Bowl, “the biggest hurdle for CMOs is often the creative hurdle,” says Dan Lovinger, executive VP of advertising sales and partnerships at NBC Sports Group, noting that the super-sized reach opens content to the potential of more “ridicule and scrutiny.”

The company’s original plan was to get the OAE into the marketplace ahead of the 2020 Olympics, but Lovinger concedes the additional time allocated due to the pandemic has allowed NBCU to improve it. “We anticipate a number of our existing partners will want to use it,” he says, adding that five undisclosed brands have already expressed interested in the engine, with a “majority more” expected to sign on as the tool rolls out.

The sample size used by the engine includes nearly 700 ads from recent Olympic Games, including Rio 2016 and PyeongChang 2018, as well as 897 unique ad elements—such as the use of a voiceover or the casting of an athlete—and 115 interactions. 

It also considers five key marketing objectives using a Bayesian statistical model when judging an ad’s efficacy: awareness, ad breakthrough, brand perception, brand engagement and search impact.

The OAE is based on NBCU’s Super-Sized Ad Model, which the media company developed for Super Bowl LII in 2018, though the current Olympics-focused version is significantly more comprehensive than its predecessor. 

Whereas the Super Bowl version was programmed with five ad models, the OAE features 540; it also analyzes more than twice the amount of ads, up to 671 from the earlier version’s 253. The new engine also exponentially expanded on the number of trackable optimization scenarios—1.14 trillion, versus the original 1.9 billion.

Announced in advance of the rescheduled 2020 Summer Olympics, which are due to take place in Tokyo in a matter of months, the OAE was created by NBCUniversal Insights and Measurement in conjunction with Hive, iSpot.tv, Phoenix and Edo.

NBCU also has two more engines in the works for next year: another Olympic Ad Engine that will be programmed for the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing, and Super-Sized Ad Model 2.0 for Super Bowl LVI.