Olympic Ambush Analysis – Part 5: Welcome to the Sponsorship Nanny State

oneplusoneMcDonald’s is a global TOP sponsor of the IOC. So is Coca-Cola. Cadbury is a Games sponsor.

There has been a lot of controversy around these sponsorships, capped off by a riveting piece of propaganda, entitled The Obesity Games. The premise seems to be that Olympic sponsorship is some sort of corporate plot to make our children obese. Seriously, if you listen to some of the commentary around these sponsorships, you’d think Ronald McDonald was force feeding people Quarter Pounders on the way into the stadiums.

Except that McDonald’s provides many healthier options, and Coca-Cola bottles water, juice, sports drinks, and plenty of other health-friendly products. And isn’t a small amount of dark chocolate actually supposed to be good for you? And where exactly do personal choice, self-control, and you know… actually teaching our children to respect their bodies come into it?

But common sense be damned – we’re on a roll, so why stop there? Tier 1 Games sponsor, BP, was responsible for one of the largest environmental accidents of all time. Lloyd’s TSB isn’t looking exactly pristine, at the moment. Heineken could hardly be considered healthy. And what about mining giant, Rio Tinto? Certainly, there must be something worth complaining about with Rio Tinto.

Even if you did buy into this way of thinking, and supported a ban on Olympic sponsors with any potential for controversy, it wouldn’t work. Let’s just say, for a moment, that a ban was put into effect. This is what I predict would happen:

  • The pool of potential sponsors – brands with global consumer relevance and huge marketing budgets – would shrink.
  • Applying for Olympic sponsorship would be like volunteering to be the star attraction at a witch hunt. No matter what is on the positive side of the ledger, there will be a special interest group or politician with an axe to grind who will dredge up all manner of allegations that could – true or not – tarnish a brand before the sponsorship even gets off the ground.
  • The scrutiny and smaller pool would reduce both the number of sponsorship categories that could realistically be sold and the value of those sponsorships, reducing the cash available for staging an event to the standard that the global audience of billions expects.
  • Many of the “undesirable” sponsors, being very familiar with the value of Olympic-driven marketing, would mount massive ambush marketing campaigns. With many categories (confectionary, soft drinks, fast food, etc) deemed inappropriate, they wouldn’t even have any competition from genuine sponsors. Think anti-ambush legislation would stop that from happening? I’d like to introduce you to my friend, Nike.

The upshot of all of this is that putting a blanket ban on sponsorship categories that one interest group or another would deem inappropriate is… er… inappropriate.

You may be thinking, “Of course you’d say that. You’re a cold-blooded marketer.” Yeah, but I’m also a mum raising a very healthy child, and I know that eating a little bit of chocolate here and there, or a Macca’s lunch once a month, is not detrimental to my daughter’s health or psyche. And I don’t mind the odd can of Coke or alcoholic drink, myself, and yet somehow I’m fighting fit (literally – I box).

But “all things in moderation” isn’t nearly as sexy when you’ve got a global soap-box to stand on. No, that’s the time to crunch the numbers in your favour and churn out a schmick report about how surely the Olympics can do without the hundreds of millions of dollars from these big, evil corporations trying to make our children fat.

Closing Ceremony update

I wonder if they’ll be writing another report about the detrimental effects of featuring badly behaved, phone-throwing, (former) drug-abusing, scarily skinny models in the Closing Ceremony?

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