Thursday, April 17, 2008

Giving olympic sponsors a sporting chance?

For those of you that have been following our entries on the upcoming Beijing Olympics, we thought this article, "Navigating Olympic Sponsorship: Marketing Your Brand without Alienating the World" from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania might be of interest (thanks to Elizabeth Watson for alerting us to this one). It gives a good overview of some of the issues that the Olympics' corporate sponsors will have to juggle in the face of the political protests. As one of the Wharton professors comments in the article:

"Corporations that want to sponsor the Games have to navigate the political undercurrents ... I wouldn't be surprised if many underestimated the potential for [the Games] to turn into an international issue and thought instead, 'We can reach a billion eyeballs; the political stuff will just go away. But politics isn't about money. It's about hope and fear and common purpose and identity."

As the article rightly says, it is hardly surprising that the Games are a political focal point, and indeed, they often have been over the years. The difference now though is that the politics are far more embedded in economics than they once were. What with China being such an important trading partner for many corproations, not to mention the huge sponsorship deals involved, the incentives to avoid rocking the boat are there for all to see.

As we've already said, it's a little too early to tell what the consequences are going to be for the corporate sponsors, but one potential outcome mooted in the Wharton article may just be rattling a few nerves at Coca Cola, McDonalds, Volkswagon and the other sponsors. As anyone who has visited China will be aware, broadcasters in the PRC have a definite proclivity to black-out broadcasts at the slightest suggestion of anything controversial. After spending billions on sponsorship, the last thing the multinationals will want to see is a blank screen. Well, that's not counting the potential for "an unlucky photo or video clip of, say, Chinese police cracking a protester over the head in Beijing with a General Electric, Johnson & Johnson or Visa logo in the background". Unlucky? Or it just part and parcel of the heady brew of business, politics and sport?

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