Thursday, 20 March 2014

The winter olympics and the delicate issue of sponsorship

Many of you reading this will have enjoyed the last few weeks watching people throw themselves off mountains on sticks or around slopes of sheet ice on tea trays. You may have even religiously tuned into watch people clean the ice in front of a casserole dish. I will admit that the recent winter games passed me by, apart from the furore around Russia’s anti-gay laws.

Sponsorship of any Olympic event is big money and comes with heavy policing. It is a high cost, high stakes business, undertaken by only the biggest global brands with the deepest pockets. They often have the most to loose and so the delicate issue of equality is a headache those brands do not need.

In response to the media and social backlash, IOC sponsors like Visa, Procter & Gamble, Samsung, Coca Cola and McDonalds released nice statements about the inclusiveness of the games without directly condemning the Russian stance.

Other brands that had no link to the games however went to town. We had Google’s logo changing on the opening day to include images of the games with the rainbow flag. Channel 4’s “Gay Mountain” ad and Chevrolet’s first same sex couple ad were other examples of brands wanting to demonstrate their own values.  

You have to feel sorry for the sponsor brands as they sponsor the games, not the host nation’s political or social beliefs. But that does not stop the pressure. Closer to home, we have seen examples of brands prepared to take a strong stand over things that they truly believe in. Zoopla’s dropping its sponsorship of West Brom over the Anelka quenelle issue for example. To me that demonstrates a business that truly stands by its values and fair play to them.

There are no winners or losers here. The lesson may be simply that all brands need to be satisfied that they are prepared to stand by their own values. Especially if their activities in some way mean they could be accused of being compromised. Or at least make sure you have a plan of how to approach any backlash. Planning will prevent pain in the long run. 

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