In the past decade, Instagram has grown to become one of the largest social media platforms in existence and in turn, an extremely viable advertising platform. Marketers now spend an estimated $1 billion per year on influencer marketing on Instagram alone and that figure is slated to reach nearly $2.4 billion by as early as 2019.
Many individuals have carved out careers for themselves on Instagram by posting engaging content and attracting large followings. Additionally, it has become increasingly common for celebrities, athletes, musicians, models, and more to leverage their fame to promote brands on Instagram.
Here we’ll examine how five athletes, all Olympians, are using their global dominance and widespread appeal to cash in on influencer marketing.
American swimmer Michael Phelps (@m_phelps00) is the most decorated Olympian of all time with 28 medals (23 of which are gold). Phelps also won eight medals at the 2008 Beijing Games, cementing a record for the most medals won at a single Olympics.
Phelps is a global swimming icon and maintains a family-focused Instagram account with over 3.3. million followers. To date, his widespread influence has led to lucrative partnerships with brands among the likes of Blue Apron, Colgate, and Little Tikes.
Phelps recently collaborated with toothpaste brand Colgate for a unique cause marketing campaign unified by the hashtag #EveryDropCounts. The initiative seeks to raise awareness surrounding water conservation while simultaneously promoting Colgate.
In the form of three sponsored Instagram posts, Phelps encouraged followers to turn the faucet off when brushing their teeth to help save up to eight gallons of water a day. Through the campaign, Colgate effectively uses Phelps’ influence for good while simultaneously positioning itself as an eco-friendly brand.
A recent survey indicates that 87% of consumers are willing to switch to a brand if it’s associated with a good cause. In light of this, Colgate’s #EveryDropCounts campaign is likely to sway consumer purchase decisions.
Additionally, Colgate’s partnership with Phelps enables the brand to deliver its message through a trusted and often idolized public figure who has access to an enormous Instagram audience.
Tennis legend Serena Williams (@serenawilliams) is one of the most successful American athletes of all time. Her win at the 2017 Australian Open was a historic match against her sister, Venus, and cemented her 23rd grand slam title. Additionally, she holds four Olympic medals.
Many see Williams as the epitome of female power. Her Instagram offers a diverse mix of tennis snapshots, moments from her life away from the game, and recently, photos of her newborn daughter Olympia Ohanian.
Unsurprisingly, her global stardom has led to more than 7.6 million Instagram followers and collaborations with Nike, Beats By Dre, Booking.com, and more.
One notable brand Williams has partnered with for influencer initiatives is Tempur-Pedic. The above sponsored post features a professionally shot video clip of Williams playing tennis and listing various sleep benefits. The video also highlights Williams as a loyal, 10-year Tempur-Pedic customer using text overlay.
In conjunction with the video, Williams offers a personable caption that calls attention to her increased need for quality sleep as a new mom. In doing so, she introduces a pain point that many parents can relate to and presents Tempur-Pedic mattresses as the solution. As a professional athlete who values rest and recovery, Williams is well positioned to promote the mattress brand.
Lindsey Vonn (@lindseyvonn) is the first American woman to ever win an Olympic gold medal for downhill skiing. Since her historic win at the 2010 Vancouver Games, she has gone on to win several World Cup Championships and built a reputation as incredibly resilient in overcoming injuries. She enters the Pyeongchang Games as a heavy favorite.
No stranger to social media, Vonn maintains 1.3 million Instagram followers. Her account offers a look into her grueling training schedule and highlights exciting moments in her life outside of skiing.
In anticipation of the 2018 Winter Games, Vonn collaborated with Bounty to create a humorous video advertisement promoting the brand’s paper towels. To promote the video ad, Vonn published a series of sponsored Instagram posts featuring short clips from the original advertisement.
The above sponsored video highlights select bloopers from the commercial. The post peaks viewers’ curiosities, effectively driving traffic to the full-length ad, while also providing Vonn’s followers with exclusive behind-the-scenes content.
By poking fun at her own mistakes, Vonn’s post comes across as humorous and relatable, and creating an affable advertisement for Bounty.
Historically referred to as the “Flying Tomato,” Shaun White (@shaunwhite) is arguably the world’s most accomplished snowboarder. He started competing professionally at the age of 13 and boasts two Olympic gold medals and 23 X Games medals. In Pyeongchang, he aims to win a third gold medal in the snowboarding halfpipe event.
White’s Instagram is largely a celebration of his passion for snowboarding and features photos and videos of him competing and training. In addition to snowboarding content, he also shares snapshots of his worldwide travels with his following of more than 738,000. To date, he has partnered with Beats By Dre, Omega, and other top brands.
In October 2017, just months before the 2018 Games, White sustained a head laceration while training in New Zealand. Many feared that the injury would prevent him from qualifying for the Games.
In the wake of the injury, White took to Instagram to alert fans that he would be okay in the form of a sponsored photo in partnership with Beats By Dre. The photo depicts White lying in a hospital bed wearing Beats By Dre headphones, his face still bloody.
Within the caption, he connects his drive to overcome the injury with the Beats By Dre brand by saying, “I’ve always lived my life by pushing the limits,” positively associating the consumer electronics company with progression, risk-taking, and resilience. The photo itself also capitalizes on the buzz and awareness around the Olympian’s injury.
Though only 20 years old, Simone Biles (@simonebiles) is widely regarded as one of the most talented U.S. gymnasts of all time. At the 2016 Rio Olympics she won five medals, four of them gold. Biles has also won the most world championship gold medals of any female gymnast and has confirmed she intends to compete in the upcoming 2020 Games.
Biles primarily utilizes Instagram to showcase her life outside of the gym and regularly posts photos of family and friends. Her engaged Instagram following of more than 3.4 million has led to partnerships with Beats By Dre, Coca-Cola, Hershey’s, and more.
In order to promote Coca-Cola, an official sponsor of the 2018 Winter Olympic Games, Biles shared one sponsored Instagram post. The Instagram boomerang depicts Biles and two other American Olympians, Missy Franklin and Summer Sanders, seated in a bobsled.
Within the caption, Biles extends support to fellow Coca-Cola athletes Nathan Chen, Amy Purdy, Elana Meyers Taylor, and Mac Bohonnon, all of whom are competing at the Winter Games.
By featuring other athletes in the post Biles positions Coca-Cola as a brand that supports a wide array of Olympic athletes. Additionally, by tagging their accounts she drives traffic to the other athletes’ Instagram accounts, which also contain Coca-Cola sponsored posts. This strategy effectively widens the brand’s online reach.