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Measuring Olympic Returns: Activism and Purpose Share Marketing Spotlight in Sochi

Future standout performances will be determined not only by connecting product and purpose in an authentic way but also by navigating the ever shifting socio-economic and social media landscapes.

Submitted by: Guest Contributor

Posted: Mar 14, 2014 – 09:00 AM EST

Tags: sochi olympics, coca-cola, mcdonalds, social media, activism, lgbt, gay rights, marketing, zippo, bmw, chobani, citibank, cause marketing


By Larry Koffler, EVP, Edelman’s Business + Social Purpose

As the 2014 Olympic and Paralympic Games officially conclude this week, sponsor strategists are getting started on evaluations of their marketing program. For several, it must feel like having attempted a treacherous switch back 1080 double cork on the half pipe: a high-stakes effort open to multiple judges’ interpretation.

Return on investment expectations have risen in tandem with the cost of entry for top level sponsors – more than $100 million before activation dollars. And the degree of difficulty in executing creative integrated marketing campaigns has ratcheted up as activist performances rivaled those of the athletes.

Activists Score Early

Before the Olympic torch was lit (and relit thanks to Zippo) human rights activists commanded the attention of several sponsors by empowering supporters to take the reins of their promotional efforts to denounce passage ofLGBT-Sochi anti-gay laws in Russia.

McDonald’s used #CheersSochi on Twitter, intending to send messages to the athletes. The hashtag was quickly repurposed to bring attention to the abuses the LGBT community has suffered in Russia and challenge the company’s support for the Games.

Coke’s 1971 “Buy the World a Coke” ad was remixed with images of Russian protesters being attacked and subsequently the brand was put on the defensive when Olympic security guards (wearing Coke branded uniforms) detained a rainbow-flag-waving protestor during the Olympic Torch relay. In addition, the brand shut down its message generator website designed to create shareable personalized cans after activists used it as a platform to share messages about Russia’s anti-gay policies and human rights abuses.

While McDonald’s and Coke released statements underscoring their support of inclusion, in this case, it was not perceived to be commensurate with the situation at hand. Notably, AT&T was largely lauded for being the first major sponsor to condemn Russia’s anti-gay laws.

Medal-Worthy Performances

According to YouGov - BrandIndex, Chobani was tops in “increased purchase consideration and positive buzz” among official sponsors. The brand was thrown a curve ball when Russian authorities would not allow delivery of its yogurt to the athletes in Sochi because they said it lacked the proper paperwork. It benefitted from the support from Sens. Schumer and Gillibrand as well as its subsequent decision to donate the 5,000 yogurt cups to food banks in New York and New Jersey.

The brand also found a subtle way to share its values with a multi-colored product post entitled “Naturally Powering Everyone,” which generated more than 37,000 likes.

BMW successfully marketed its i3 EV and i8 plug-in hybrids while helping Team USA win its first medal in bobsledding since 1952. In addition to collaborating with the U.S. Federation for the sport on a redesign of the bobsleds, the brand reprised its BMW Drive for Team USA national fundraising campaign inviting consumers to visit BMW dealers for test drives and then contributing to Team USA for each test drive.

Every Step Of The Way-Citi-Sochi

Finally, U.S. Olympic Team sponsor Citi* reprised its Every Step Of The Way program, which put purpose at the heart of its programming – grounded in helping people on their journey from ambition to achievement. At the root of its integrated campaign, Citi invited Team USA fans to help allocate its $500,000 donation to the U.S. Olympic Committee to support sport programs that inspired the journeys of each of the Team Citi athletes. Every Step Of The Way included multimedia features about the athletes and what drew them to their respective causes.

Each brand will measure success on a variety of factors including how their campaign moved the needle on annual marketing and communications objectives. It’s clear, however, future standout performances will be determined not only by connecting product and purpose in an authentic way but also by navigating the ever shifting socio-economic and social media landscapes.

* Disclosure: Edelman client

The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by CSRwire contributors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of CSRwire.

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