Winter Wonders

The biggest marketing successes from the 2014 Sochi winter Olympics.

Russia's anti-gay legislation was one of the biggest talking points in the run up to the 2014 Sochi Olympics, so it is particularly apt that a pro-gay institution proved to be one of the biggest winners away from the slopes.

With five million views in just two weeks, The Canadian Institution for Diversity and Inclusion (CIDI)’s public service announcement of two men in spandex gently rocking back and forth on a double luge – to the soundtrack of The Human League’s 1981 number-one hit Don’t You Want Me Baby – proved to be one of the marketing success stories of the Sochi Games. It was created by the Rethink agency.

“The argument that LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) issues in Russia are now front and centre is a good thing and too convincing to ignore. Putin had to swallow that. It’s all about media attention,” says Tim Crow, CEO of sponsorship agency Synergy, regarding the success of CIDI’s marketing.

Other notable efforts came from beer brand Guinness (Twins campaign), sports apparel giant Nike (Team Canada ice hockey) and Molson’s for its fridge that offered free beer to Canadian citizens who activated it with their passport.

As usual during an Olympic Games, the combination of the ‘clean’ branding inside venues and restriction of marketing to official corporate partners brought out the best in ambush marketing, with fast food operator Subway using former Olympic speed skater Apolo Ohno in the run up to the Games and coffee shop Starbucks opening a pop-up shop in the media centre.

The gold medal for ambush, though, was lighter company Zippo. During the torch relay the flame was blown out by wind, and was reportedly relit using a Zippo lighter. This was followed up with a picture of the incident on the Zippo Facebook page and the creation of hashtag #ZippoSavesOlympics.

“When you have something like Zippo – which was absolutely fantastic – that just shows what the impact can be if you do something well,” adds Crow. “The speed of what they did was great, not only in the way they had a couple of great images, but also the PR around it from them was like ‘oh really? We didn’t realise it would cause such a fuss…’. Absolutely brilliant.”

The challenge now for the IOC (International Olympic Committee) and national Olympic committees is to use the same marketing creativity to increase their profile in non-Games periods, specifically with the help of social media.

US Olympic broadcaster NBC announced last month that the average winter Olympic viewer is aged 55, having been 48 during the Salt Lake 2002 Olympics, showing the age-old problem of a lack of appeal to younger audiences is still present. Crow believes the antidote for this is through the IOC fully opening up its social media channels to its corporate partners.

“It throws up some interesting challenges for the IOC, as so far it has kept its social media channels completely at arm’s length from its sponsors,” says Crow. “That’s definitely something it may reconsider. The IOC has got 33 million fans now on social channels, and I would imagine the average age of that following is lower than 55. This community is something that should be shared with its sponsors.”

Crow says the IOC should look at the activity of the USOC (United States Olympic Committee) to create exposure for its sponsors in between Games: “Whether it’s events at the White House, networking events, you name it, they do an awful lot to create a year round narrative for their Olympic partners.”

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