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Sochi sponsors' poisoned chalice

Monday, January 13, 2014 - 02:24

Jan 13 - Olympics normally mean rich pickings for sponsors but next month's winter games in the Russian resort Sochi are proving fraught with challenges. Ivor Bennett looks at the dangers advertisers face when the host country is the subject of negative publicity.

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Racism, suicide bombs, and anti-gay legislation. Coverage of the Sochi Winter Olympics so far has been anything but positive - with barely a word on sport. Normally by now sponsors would be poised to cash in. But instead of hoping for the best, this time they're planning for the worst. Sports marketing expert Andy Sutherden. SOUNDBITE (English) ANDY SUTHERDEN, HEAD OF SPORTS MARKETING AND SPONSORSHIP, HILL AND KNOWLTON STRATEGIES, SAYING: "Reputational risk for Sochi, I think, is huge, almost unprecedented. Not planning for the worst is a bit like getting behind the wheel of a car without a seatbelt on because you're going to be utterly unprepared for unwanted headlines." Much of the change in strategy is down to social media. Tweets and threads snowballing into headlines. With Sochi, the focus has been Russia's controversial anti-gay propaganda law. Online campaigns calling on consumers to boycott the games...and its sponsors. SOUNDBITE (English) ANDY SUTHERDEN, HEAD OF SPORTS MARKETING AND SPONSORSHIP, HILL AND KNOWLTON STRATEGIES, SAYING: "Companies need to embrace these news headlines because it's what their own consumers are talking about. They need to join the debate in an appropriate way that doesn't take the gloss away from the event that they're sponsoring. And that's a real tension for any sponsor associated with modern day sport." McDonalds, Coke and Proctor and Gamble have all been at pains to show their support for diversity, without directly criticising Russia. There's no room for discrimination under the Golden Arches, McDonald's said in a statement, adding that it's engaged with the IOC on what it calls the Russia legislation issue, encouraging ongoing, constructive dialogue. Proctor and Gamble's using individual athletes to carry its Sochi campaign - continuing its 'thank you Mum' adverts from London 2012. THOSE games brought a boost of half a billion dollars for the household goods company. It's aiming for one third of that in Sochi. But according to PR consultant Nick Cooper, even that is optimistic. SOUNDBITE (English) NICK COOPER, MANAGING DIRECTOR EUROPE, MILLWARD BROWN, SAYING: "It would need a combination of factors that are unlikely to happen but I could foresee a circumstance in which they gain basically no net benefit or possibly even get a negative result from it." One man not ashamed to bask in Sochi's limelight is Russia's president Vladimir Putin - visiting the venues, and testing them out. In his case, it was a smooth run down, but for sponsors, Sochi could a be bumpy ride.

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Sochi sponsors' poisoned chalice

Monday, January 13, 2014 - 02:24