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These Olympic ads don't play Games

Are you sick of Olympic advertisements featuring athletes running with the torch?

Have you seen one too many sappy scenes of athletes who beat all the odds to go to the Games?

One too many perfect-bodied athletes chowing down on cereal?

You're not alone. This summer's round of Olympic advertising will include some commercials from companies that are focusing on their products more than the Olympic phenomenon.

A novel idea.

Take Delta Airlines. Its $20-million Olympic advertising campaign refers to the Olympics without beating you over the head with it. British actor Nigel Havers, who starred as an Olympian in Chariots of Fire, is the Delta spokesman. Movie buffs might get the connection, and there is a splattering of references to the Games, but it's not overkill.

He kicks off the first of 10 commercials with the line, "Well, in the true Olympic spirit, I'm off on a marathon." The next nine spots cover five countries and three continents. Each features some quality the company wants to underscore, like on-time travel service, comfortable seating and friendly employees.

In one spot, Havers asks a Delta employee giving directions at the connection gate: Which way to low-fat weiner schnitzel? Without batting an eye, the employee says, "Third restaurant down."

In another, when Havers continually breathes deeply, reveling in the smoke-free air in a Delta plane, even on a transatlantic flight, an American passenger asks, "Are you hyperventilating?" "No," says Havers. "I'm English."

The commercials stand on their own, without an athlete's crutch. They target frequent business travelers, and their upscale approach just might break them away from the look-alike crowd of sports-related advertising.

To boot, these commercials include about 50 Delta employees, and Delta didn't exceed its existing advertising budget shooting them.

"I think you're going to see a few companies have decided not to use the traditional sports scene," said David Blum, who has been monitoring sports advertising for more than 10 years as a strategic planner with the Eisner and Associates advertising firm in Baltimore.

"These companies felt that they could stand out by not focusing on the guy with the torch," he said. "They could stand out with their product."

That's what Eastman Kodak Co. is banking on, too.

Kodak is advertising its new Advanced Photo System during the Olympics. But while it is kicking off the campaign during the Olympics, the ads are so focused on the new photo system that Kodak is planning to keep running them well after the summer Games are over.

"Kodak has been advertising with the Olympics since 1896, so it's not like we don't take the Olympics seriously," said Ken Aurichio, a spokesman for Kodak.

"But with this campaign, the message we want to be crystal clear is that we are pushing the Advanced Photo System."

Blum, who tracks sports advertising, will conduct studies after the Olympics to see if ads like Delta's and Kodak's were strong enough to break away from the pack and affect consumer buying habits.

Stay tuned.

_ Lara Wozniak covers marketing and law for the Times. Contact her at (813) 226-3365 or send electronic mail to