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Olympic TV commercials nearing overkill, though marketers see a few winners

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TORONTO - While the Sochi Olympics can be a battle of perseverance for athletes, many viewers find it's the advertisements that are testing new limits of patience.

Between repeated showings and seemingly endless online scrutiny, the Canadian commercials have played before a national panel of judges whose expectations pale to the actual athletic competitions.

But just like watching a figure skater perform a double axel for 16 days straight, the novelty of a single Olympic advertisement loses its lustre — fast — and can make a pricey campaign work against a company, marketers suggest.

"There is a backlash of people who get tired of seeing that same Bell spot over and over again, or that same RBC spot," said John Yorke, president of the Rain43 ad agency in Toronto.

"You don't want them to have a negative feeling towards your brand."

Over the past week, a chorus of disgruntled sports watchers have taken to Twitter to vent their frustrations with the commercial breaks.

"I love the Olympics ... it's the time when I get to see the same five commercials repeated infinitely until I start to hate those companies," wrote a user named Austin Bates.

"So glad my remote has a mute button. So bloody sick of the commercials," added another, named Ren.

Working against national Canadian advertisers is that there are few companies who can afford pricey TV spots, which means the same commercials are saturating the airwaves.

Canadian Tire was warned about that danger when it sat down with media buyers and advertising agencies to craft an Olympic campaign before the Games.

"A lot of people have the TV on the whole time of the Olympics," said the retailer's vice-president of marketing, Susan O'Brien.

"No matter how creative, people start getting sick of (the commercials)."

Canadian Tire decided on a campaign that consciously steered away from annoying the most loyal Olympic viewers. Instead of a single commercial, it launched three commercials with different themes.

In total, the company has 11 variations of its Olympics commercials running at different lengths, including "Celebrate," which has grabbed attention with its infectious jingle "We All Play for Canada."

Canadian Tire's Sport Chek brand has another six variations of its "What It Takes" campaign with numerous players including skier Chris Del Bosco, snowboarder Mark McMorris and hockey player Sidney Crosby.

Marketers say advertisers have rallied behind patriotic images of Canada this year more than in any other Winter Olympics.

Unofficial sponsor Tim Hortons (TSX:THI) created an advertisement in which hockey players of every age join Crosby, while sports gear company Under Armour reached back to archival footage of the 1972 Summit Series hockey game to conjure up nostalgia.

The commercials "talk about the value associated with the game, our sense of patriotism and fair play," said Matthew Kelly, managing director at Toronto-based firm Level5.

"I think the whole tone of the advertising was very good."

Patriotism can sometimes dilute the message, especially when every company is latching onto the same vibe, added Yorke.

"The biggest thing I've found this time around is how many brands are wrapping themselves in the Canadian flag," he said.

"They all start to look alike and your brand message, or what you're really trying to accomplish, is very lost."

Sometimes reaching beyond the Olympics to a core theme that resonates with viewers can be the most successful.

Several marketers pointed to Procter & Gamble's "Thank You, Mom" campaign as the standout of the commercials.

The TV spot manages to link P&G's diapers, laundry detergent and shampoo to the relationship between mothers and their children, and then bring it all together with various footage of winter sports. The clip has been a social media success, generating more than 18 million views on YouTube as of Tuesday.

Other standout TV advertisements:

— Bell

One of the country's biggest telecom companies pokes fun at Canada's obsession with the Olympics by showing people watching the Games everywhere possible: on their smartphones, tablets and TVs. The quick-cut commercial stands out for its inclusion of a gay couple embracing, a subtle reference to Russia's anti-gay legislation, said David Soberman, professor of marketing at the Rotman School of Management in Toronto.

"In a sense what they're trying to do is say they sponsor the Olympics, but are not on board with the sort of position that they're taking in Russia," he said.

— McDonald's

A montage of Olympic gold winners biting their medals is mirrored with shots of people wolfing down Chicken McNuggets, drawing a parallel between athletes and fast food. The campaign ran with a social media blitz that promoted a "fan pack" of nuggets.

"The idea is that chicken nuggets will give you the same amount of happiness if you bite them. I think the humour in it is very clever," said Soberman.

— Budweiser

The American beer company simultaneously launched a TV spot and a city-to-city tour of its Budweiser blimp, a red Zeppelin that doubles at a massive goal light each time the Canadian hockey team scores a goal. The overall campaign generated dinner table conversation about the blimp, said Mark Harrison, president of brand manager Trojan1.

Follow @dj_friend on Twitter.

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. The version that moved on Tuesday omitted the first name of Mark Harrison, of Trojan1.

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