Sochi 2014: Marketing Winners and Losers

As the 2014 Winter Olympics draws to a close, Marketing Week examines those who struck gold during the event and those who were left in the starting blocks.

Winners

Sponsors

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Despite Winter Olympic sponsors’ decision to ignore calls to take more prominent action against Russia’s anti-gay laws and defer to the International Olympic Committee, the Games appear to have been kind to them. The concerns and controversies that plagued the build up to the Games gave way to excitement around the events and athletes, according to Repucom’s analysis of Twitter. There have been more than 335,929 tweets in the UK since the beginning of February with the highest mentions including TeamGB, Skeleton and Curling. It is not so much the quantity of Tweets but the sentiment of this social interaction that will leave sponsors breathing a sigh of relief.

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LBGT) campaigners

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Gay rights campaigners were successful in dominating the build up to Sochi’s Games by turning much of the media spotlight on Russia’s controversial anti-gay law. From re-editing Coke’s iconic 1971 iconic “I’d like to buy the world a Coke” to feature images of Russian security officials beating LBGT campaigners to McDonald’s “Cheers to Sochi” social media campaign being hijacked, activists were able to disrupt the well-orchestrated campaigns from sponsors and leave a lasting impression long after the final ski jump.

Western brands thawing out the Russian market

Companies have been making moves to exploit the growing appetite for Western brands in Russia and the Winter Olympics was expected to fuel that. With the wider-reaching and costlier World Cup just months away, Coca-Cola and McDonald’s opted to focus much of their sponsorship efforts on the region in the hope of reaching the country’s middle class – predicted to represent 86 per cent of the population by 2020 with a spending power of $1.1trn. In Russia, the value of being seen working alongside the government has much greater value as people see them as contributing to society, according to Repucom’s expert on the country Maxim Kleiman. These companies are seen to be investing in Russia’s future rather than banking on the short-term recuperation of their initial investment, he adds.

Samsung takes sponsors Gold

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Samsung came out on top among official sponsors of the Sochi Games with its sponsorship campaign driving a spike in positive sentiment around the brand, according to the latest YouGov data. The campaign helped lift Samsung’s Buzz – a net balance of whether people have heard positive and negative things about the brand – by 2.2 points over the last four weeks. Its Index score – the net average of how people rate the brand in terms of impression, quality, value, reputation, satisfaction and whether they would recommend it – jumped from 36.1 points to 40 points in the period. 

Losers

Under Armour

The best advertisers find ways to connect with sports fans even when their athletes underperform. Nike and Paula Radcliffe prior to London 2012, Adidas and Phillips Idowu during the tournament, both brands turned incidents of their stars being unable to compete into opportunities to tap into the Olympic buzz. Unfortunately for Under Armour, the strategy could not be replicated around this year’s event. The brand was forced to tread a fine line of defending its equipment and not blaming athletes after the American speedskating team said its suits hampered their performance in Sochi. Under Armour’s stock plummeted 2.4 per cent in the wake of the comments and the brand launched a PR push to prevent any further damage. It has since, however, renewed its partnership with the US speedskating team through to the 2022 Games.

Real-time marketing

With London 2012 setting a precedent for real-time marketing and the World Cup being heralded as the event to take it to the next level, Sochi 2014 was expected to offer a glimpse as to how far the discipline had matured in the last two years. The burst of quirky stunts failed to materialise, however, with most marketers opting to keep their World Cup cards close to their chests. Visa was the most noticeable sponsor to take up the real-time baton responding quickly on Facebook whenever its athletes won gold medals. The lack of activity could be seen as a missed opportunity at a Games that saw the Jamaican bobsleigh team profess their love of cult classic Cool Runnings and British success in the Skeleton among its highlights. It seems the prospect of a winter fling with real-time marketing was not enough to woo brands this time around.

Ambush marketing

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The advent of real-time marketing over the last two years has given non-sponsors looking to ambush the Olympics an expansive platform. But efforts from the likes of Zippo and Subway (see above) failed to capture the imagination in the way Beats by Dre and Nike did around the 2012 Summer Games.

Read more of our Sochi 2014 coverage here

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