Previously on Spotlight On, we had discussed how big corporate sponsors of the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games had stayed quiet to avoid harming their brand. Now, mid-way through the games, we take another look at what is happening on the sub-tropical shores of Sochi and see if sponsors have come to terms with the complex human issues facing them. Getting expert advice on this, Bloomberg TV turned to WebiMax’s Ken Wisnefski, who assured us that advertisers have faced similar situations before and that “they haven’t really impacted advertisers to any great degree”, he also suggested that advertisers would prefer the potential reach of Olympic advertising over negative brand associations. But as we stand mid-way through the games, how has that played out?
Sponsors steer clear of Sochi 2014
Well, looking back at my initial post I had seemed to move between two poles. On the one hand I noted the tumble-weed across advertising spaces relating to this particular Olympics, on the other hand I was prepared to believe senior analysts like Wisnefski and throw my concerns far into the deepest ocean. What materialised then was very much in line with the former – advertising, especially in the UK, has all but been removed. If we take a look at McDonald’s rather sedate Sochi 2014 advertising campaign one thing is clear: there is a desperate desire to not stir the hornet’s nest.
The focus, much like P&G’s Thank You, Mom campaign, is on the individual athlete. Yet McDonald’s have done something rather more sober, entitled ‘Celebrating the Bite’ a series of videos compares chomping the gleaming golds and silvers of Olympic medallions with the indifferent crunch of masticating a McNugget – further parallels are equated between golden medals and golden chicken skin. Watch for yourself below as Shani Davis’ Olympic golden dreams are turned into a $5 box of nuggets.
This is then iterated through a number of different variations, focusing on American winter sports stars performing at Sochi. But truly global campaigns have been a rather stilted affair. McDonald’s have attempted one however, under the celebratory banner #cheerstosochi. This was a campaign which allowed McDonald’s audiences to send messages to winter Olympians through Twitter as well as through a ‘video portal’ in Sochi itself where Olympians could access direct or ‘team’ messages of support. So, was this a huge success or what?
It sounds like a great idea, but harnessing social media also means managing audience responses. And in this case, the audience were particularly aggrieved. #cheerstosochi was quickly hijacked by human rights activists appalled at the way sponsors have turned a blind-eye to some of the clampdowns on protests in and around the Olympic village. Protest videos even explain how to best to occupy McDonald’s #cheerstosochi website.
Managing comment in the digital age
What’s plain is that advertisers no longer possess the powers to halt, retract or deflect negative comments from spreading to a wide audience. Savvy activists can now hijack the best laid marketing plans, which is bad news for brands whose empire now expands across multiple territories. Interestingly, comment from We Are Social suggests that brands are actively avoiding engaging in any kind of Sochi marketing strategy in the UK. This has left a huge vacuum in which dissenters can be heard. The damage of such a position is unknown but from this point of view it seems like an incredibly naïve strategy, one which will get a lot, lot worse, before it can better – a quick search of #cheerstosochi on Twitter reveals all kinds of strongly worded affronts and will surely be of great detriment to McDonald’s UK marketers.
In my personal view sponsors left in the harrowing position of ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ could have at least tried, at least stepped up to the mark. Audiences can forgive them if they try, but if they leave it they are forever left with a strong negative association with the games that will leave a bitter taste in their mouth. Especially when audiences see other commercial or public entities promoting equality through various channels, such as Channel 4’s Gay Mountain advertisement, or Canada’s Institute of Diversity and Inclusion.
Audiences are never passive
Of course, audiences are often passive, especially when you’re trying to advertise to them. But when it’s something they care about audiences always want to think about actively responding to it, even if they don’t actually respond. It makes no difference to the audience whether you’re a corporate sponsor of the games or whether you’re a commercial entity advertising in a home territory, people rarely think like that. All they’ll see is the positive or negative connotations, leaving those sponsors who dare to leave the void a void in a massive, global negative echo chamber.
Read all about how Sochi 2014 sponsors floundered at the start of the marketing push way back in 2013 at the following link.Alternatively, if you’re interested in getting the lastest information on video marketing and production techniques, take a pick from the great content on our blog, email in, follow us on Twitter or link up to our RSS feed here.