While the world sets its sights on Sochi to watch athletes chase their dreams, brands set their sights on capitalizing on the winter games. Countless brands tout their sponsorships, and others show Team USA support in various ways. However, these games have proven different, as their location and the laws within it have caused a great amount of controversy. This has required brands to act tactfully when it comes to tying themselves to the Sochi games. Let’s look at some necessary strategies and brands that have gotten it right thus far.
The biggest thing brands and the public need to keep in mind is that companies that sponsor the Olympics are sponsoring the world wide sporting event and its athletes; not the city of Sochi or Russia and its government. Many who have been specifically targeted for not taking a strong enough stance on LGBT issues have not pulled their sponsorships, but instead declared support of LGBT rights while not commenting on Russian politics.
[Tweet “Olympic advertisers are sponsoring the world-wide event and its athletes, not the Russian govt.”]
Some brands have successfully done this by focusing on the stories of specific athletes and their families and highlighting the great opportunities the Olympics provide. P&G is a huge Olympic sponsor and has continued to promote their “Pick Them Back Up” campaign with heart-warming stories that humanize the athletes.
While many brands choose to focus on the positive, feel-good aspects of the Olympics, the spotlight on Sochi and Russia as a whole is so bright that not addressing the current state of political controversies can prove more damaging than responding, as companies like McDonald’s learned.
— Mike Signorile (@MSignorile) January 21, 2014
Activists around the globe are demanding a response from major partners of the games, and many have released well-crafted responses that emphasize their support of the athletes, and subtly address their understanding of the controversy. The controversy is not limited to LGBT rights, but environmental damage, terrorist threats, human rights violations, and animal cruelty as well. People living and working in Sochi have been greatly affected by the games’ presence, and the city rounded up and killed hundreds of stray dogs.
As I have mentioned before, major corporations bowing down to the cries of small activists groups is usually unnecessary and often ends up damaging; however, with an event as grand as the Olympics and the violence occurring within the host country, it isn’t something that can be swept under the rug. It’s more effective for brands to address their awareness of the situation and their support of human rights in a succinct, measured statement in order to appease the groups calling for action – without compromising their brand reputation.[Tweet “Sochi taught many companies that not addressing controversy can prove more damaging than responding.”]
Brands need to expect the worst and prepare for it. Companies that have any involvement in the games or particular athletes have to carefully analyze how to respond to their association with such a controversial event, and that also includes security concerns. Brands have set up so-called “war rooms” to keep a handle on what may happen and respond to the media promptly while maintaining their brand voice. Brand strategist David Srere says that if something negative or violent were to happen, it may not be appropriate for a brand to weigh in, so in that case silence would be the best course of action.
The Olympics might seem like a fun, wholesome event to advertise in. It shows that company supports America and gives them a national stage, but that doesn’t mean brands don’t have extensive crisis management plans and are expecting the worst out of every event and ad.[Tweet “The Olympics might seem like a low-risk event to sponsor, but brands still create crisis plans.”]
Checking the Tone
Overall ads featuring the Olympics tend to have a more serious tone, but these games in particular have been more serious than ever. Previous winter games like Torino and Vancouver have had a light, excited feeling in regard to the event. This year, the games have been surrounded by potential threats, political controversy, and the general not-so-cheery air around Russia. (Sorry for the stereotype but…..). Humor as a whole has been avoided this past month, even though comedy tends to resonate with American audiences.
The Olympics always demand a special and specific course of action for brands, but the Sochi Winter Olympics have proven to be one of the most sensitive and interesting events causing brand’s reactions and strategies to be just as interesting. Personally, I think the location of these games has put a black cloud over this incredible world-wide event, and it makes enjoying them a little more difficult. Like the sponsoring brands, we as consumers must keep in mind the most important aspect, the athletes, and support them in every way possible. Can I get a GO USA?!