‘Being an Olympic sponsor is a disadvantage’ says former Coca-Cola UK marketing boss

Outgoing Coca-Cola GB marketing director Bobby Brittain has admitted being an Olympic sponsor isn’t an easy ride despite the brand’s strong performance at the recent Rio Games.

Being a top sponsor for global events such as the Olympics has put Coca-Cola at a competitive disadvantage, former GB marketing director Bobby Brittain has admitted.

Speaking at an Oystercatchers event yesterday evening (13 September), Brittain said that the brand originally got involved with the Olympics in 1928. At the time, the brand’s ambition was to be “as global as possible”. He acknowledged, however, that the original sponsorship model “no longer functions”.

“In today’s world, at risk of sounding both heretical and like a bitter ex-Coke employee – and I’m neither – the model doesn’t function,” said Brittain.

“Partly because competitively, it must be the easiest job in the world to be the Pepsi marketing director. Commercially, it’s tough as your competitor knows what you’re up to [in being an Olympic sponsor every four years].”

Despite Brittain’s doubts, Coca-Cola performed well at the Rio Olympics, according to a recent Brand Agility Index study by PR firm Waggener Edstrom Communications [WE].

It had the second most effective campaign among the headline Rio Olympic sponsors creating 17,405 mentions globally over the two-week duration of the Games. This was only outdone by Samsung, which managed to amass 20,635 mentions.

If Coca-Cola is to improve as a sponsor, experts insist it will need to create more healthy brand connotations

Should a soft drink sponsor the Olympics?

But despite this positive performance, Coca-Cola still has weaknesses in its sponsorship model. Namely, its inability to tie itself to healthy living, according to WE’s head of digital and insight Gareth Davies.

“Coke is losing out on engagement and sentiment scores simply because they are not challenging the issue head on and aren’t addressing negative feedback at all,” said Davies last month. “Fans have been lashing out at Coca-Cola’s #ThatGold campaign, stating that drinking a coke and winning a medal shouldn’t be compared.”

However, when questioned last night (14 September) about the appropriateness of a soft drink brand’s sponsorship of major sporting events such as the Olympics, Brittain said Coca-Cola was “unashamed” of its involvement.

“The Olympics wouldn’t be as great a show were it not for all the brands involved. And Coke is absolutely unashamed about its involvement,” he added.

What’s next for Brittain?

In August, Brittain left Coca Cola UK after 12 years as marketing director and was replaced by Aedamar Howlett. He has since taken up a new role as marketing and partnership director at thoroughbred horse racing stable Godolphin.

Speaking on his new role, Brittain said he will predominantly be looking for “non-financial” partnerships. Godolphin is currently partnered up with sports clothing company Under Armour, of which Brittain says “no money has exchanged hands”.

He explained: “On an annual basis we are now working with Under Armour to create a clothing line, but no money is exchanging hands. It’s very much a partnership of mutual interest and we will continue to look for similar partners.”