Ahead of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics, the International Skating Union (ISU) tasked Redtorch to develop a campaign to make Skating the No1 winter sport on social media in terms of engagements and new followers – by the end of the Games.
This was a tough task with a wide range of challenges to overcome first:
- Competing with 12 other winter sporting disciplines for eyeballs
- Creating a campaign that would appeal to fans of all three different Skating disciplines – Speed Skating, Short Track and Figure Skating
- Attracting a new audience of younger fans given the demographics of Games’ viewers is ageing
- Changing perceptions to show how Skating and the Olympic Games are relevant to young people
- Working with a limited budget to achieve global scale – targeting key territories, especially China
To ensure Skating stood above other sports at Beijing, the need for a rallying cry was identified. This was to target Ice Skaters themselves (at all levels) and the millions of Ice Skating fans around the world.
However, the diversity of Skating as a sport meant the campaign had to appeal to two very different target audiences.
According to ISU social media analytics, Speed Skating and Short Track audiences tended to be older with a greater proportion of males. These are technically-minded fans, interested in the sport’s power, pace and strategy.
Figure on the other hand was more likely watched by younger females with an interest in music, fashion and the arts.
One commonality identified was that Skating represents inner strength, overcoming adversity and achieving dreams. This shared truth – an emotive and inspiring idea – was developed from listening to fans. We searched a year’s worth of social conversations about Ice Skating on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and TikTok.
This social listening exercise revealed fans had engaged in 50,000 social conversations each year discussing “fails” and “falling down” on the ice – along with the humiliation, pain and fear that comes with it.
We brought this to life by choosing #UpAgain as the campaign’s hero message and hashtag; it represented the never-say-die attitude required to get back on your feet after a fall – and then work tirelessly to climb up on the Olympic Games podium.
The global nature of Skating meant appealing to many different audiences and languages; #UpAgain had the clarity to transcend nations and show how if you want to achieve your goal, this is the commitment you must make.
Ahead of creating content, we identified countries where Skating was already popular (participation and consumption) – USA, Japan and Netherlands – and where it had potential to grow: Philippines, Mexico and India. As the host nation, China was a critical market. The ISU was already on Weibo, gaining 200k followers pre-Beijing.
Our KPIs to measure the campaign’s success were simple and clear:
1) Achieve a 65% uplift in social engagements vs the 2018 Winter Olympics
2) Achieve a 50% uplift in social media followers vs the 2018 Winter Olympics
Once our global hero message was in place from the initial brief, quantitative research using Global Web Index was carried out. This audience insight platform helped develop our content ideas and themes, showing how Gen Z were more likely to find inspiration from athletes who had overcome adversity.
The research also revealed popular culture was top of the list when Gen Z were asked about their strongest interests.
However, we noted from Gallup survey research that while US Skating had seen a decline over the last 15 years, there was growth in interest in non-competition skaters on social media.
The rise of these Skating influencers, particularly on TikTok, suggested many young fans connected with sport, just not via ISU events and its athletes.
To build on this, we combined both pillars and worked with three of Skating’s top social media influencers, each of whom had overcome adversity:
- Coach Michelle Hong – a Cambodian American with 900,000 followers on TikTok. Her mission is to give coaching advice for free to make Skating accessible to all
- Elladj Baldé, a charismatic, backflipping Figure Skater of Russian and Guinean descent with 1.3m followers, using TikTok to inspire young Black and indigenous kids
- Starr Andrews, a US Figure Skater who went viral on YouTube, aged nine, when she performed Willow Smith’s Whip My Hair – with the heart-melting video reaching 50m+ views
Alongside our influencers, global growth was built by focusing on athlete profiling, from each of our 20 target nations. They told incredible #UpAgain stories. These athletes were followed before, during and after the Games to gain an early connection with the audience and ensure fans felt they knew them by the time Beijing began. This encouraged fan backing and support.
Examples of content created included:
- An inspirational launch film featuring our social media influencers and Olympic Games athletes with the message: “When a setback is just the start of the comeback. This is how we get #UpAgain.”
- Further stories of Olympic Skating stars overcoming barriers, for example, 22-year-old Donovan Carrillo – his country’s first Olympic Figure Skater in 30 years, despite Mexican machismo culture – and Erin Jackson, competing to become the first Black American woman to win a Speed Skating medal
- Animated race visualisers for the Speed Skating and Short Track finals to help fans understand how races were won and lost. This had never been done before and it successfully got around the challenge of not being able to use any video from the field of play
With the content created, a key plank of our strategy was paid social and Google Ads to target fans of like-minded sports; this would grow Skating’s following. For Figure we honed in on gymnastics, equestrian and fencing, while for Speed and Short Track, it was cycling, motorsports, swimming and track and field.
To boost visibility within China, we partnered with a China-specialist agency to localise all of this global campaign on Weibo and WeChat.
UpAgain won Gold in Beijing. We smashed KPIs for this campaign – achieving our overall target to make Skating the No1 ranked winter sport for social media engagements.
Our client Selina Vanier, Communication and Media Director, ISU, praised our work: “The #UpAgain results were amazing. Thanks to the extremely high quality of insight and creativity, the campaign delivered unprecedented levels of fan growth and engagement for Ice Skating at the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games.”
Starr Andrews, a US Figure Skater who featured in the campaign, said: “#UpAgain gave me goosebumps. It really captured the spirit of Skating and I’m not surprised that fans loved it.”
Coach Michelle Hong, a Figure Skater social media influencer who was also part of the campaign said: “The #UpAgain campaign was truly uplifting. I’m so happy to see both the ups and the downs of Skating captivated the attention of people of all ages across the world. It was an honour to be a part of it!”
Skating fans reacted to the campaign’s launch film too. “I watched this video like 100 times,” said one, with others commenting “I love this. This is so inspiring” and “So beautiful”.
Speed Skating fans also thanked us for the innovative race visualisers we had created. One example comment of praise was: “Thanks for that race visualisation. It really helps put the race into a context that people can easily understand. I hope this is done for every Olympics race.”
And it was… 23 of them in total!
In terms of our objectives and KPIs, the success achieved was clear.
OBJECTIVE: Achieve 65% uplift in social engagements vs 2018 Winter Olympics
- A 204% increase in social media engagements
- A total of 2.3m engagements
- An average of 1.5k engagements per post
- +30% more engagements than the average winter sport at Beijing
OBJECTIVE: Achieve 50% uplift in social media followers vs 2018 Winter Olympics
- 70% increase in social media followers
- A total of 65,000 new followers
- x2.4 more followers than the closest competitor
- Ranked No1 winter sport for new social media followers
Other key successes included major engagement within China itself:
- The ISU Weibo account grew from 219,000 to 293,000 followers in the four weeks from the start of Beijing Olympics to the end of the Games
- Skating was ranked the No1 winter sport on Weibo in terms of followers
- The ISU Weibo average engagement rate increased 13% during the four weeks of the Olympic Games
- Skating was ranked No1 winter sport on Weibo in terms of engagement rate
In total, across the whole campaign, we created 1,533 posts.
The result of our paid-for social media was:
- Spend: 13,793 CHF
- Impressions: 21,498,928
- Engagements: 139,524
- Video views 682,881
- Link Clicks: 7,579