SBD/February 17, 2014/Olympics

"Piggyback" Sponsors Around Sochi Often Attract More Attention Than Official Sponsors

Dick's Sporting Goods' campaign features Team USA apparel from Nike
For every official sponsor at the Sochi Games, "dozens more are trying to cash in without paying the premium required to be affiliated with the Olympic brand," according to Michael Sanserino of the PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE. These "piggyback" sponsors are "finding a lot of success, thanks to social media and creative campaigns that use coded language to evoke the games without running afoul of trademark issues." A Global Language Monitor study showed that of the 10 brands that consumers "most associate with the Sochi Olympics, six are not official sponsors." Dick's Sporting Goods is not an official Olympic sponsor but "has used various platforms to capitalize" on the Games. The retailer has "promoted a 'Your Country, Your Colors' campaign, featuring Team USA apparel from Nike." Pittsburgh-based ad agency Brunner President Scott Morgan said that Dick's is "tying its brand to the games in Sochi without using the word 'Olympics,' and is doing it effectively." Sanserino reported Subway is "working with famous Olympians" including Michael Phelps, Apolo Anton Ohno and Nastia Liukin. Those athletes "aren't competing in Sochi, but they generate an affiliation between Subway and the Olympics without the company forking over hundreds of millions" to the IOC or USOC. The Global Language Monitors study showed that Subway is "the brand that consumers most associate with the Sochi Olympics, ahead of every official sponsor" (PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, 2/16).

BREW FOR THE CREW: The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Sonne & Troianovski noted Starbucks "isn't an Olympic sponsor and is therefore forbidden to have an official presence" in Sochi, but NBC "has its own secret Starbucks" there. IOC TOP sponsor McDonald's is supposed to be the only branded coffee player, but NBC has "erected the Sochi Starbucks in its cordoned-off area of the Olympic media center." It serves "free java 24-hours-a-day to the roughly 2,500 people NBC says it sent here." NBC "flies in a rotating crew of some 15 baristas from Starbucks coffee shops in Russia, sets them up with accommodations in Sochi, and pays their regular wages." NBC's "special Starbucks has inadvertently created a coffee buzz." A stream of branded Starbucks cups has "seeped around the Olympic grounds in what some initially surmised was a cunning ambush marketing campaign -- a suggestion that Starbucks and NBC deny." NBC said that its Starbucks "doesn't run afoul of Olympic rules," because it is "secluded within an NBC facility and isn't open to the public." IOC Media Relations Coordinator Rachel Rominger said that the NBC Starbucks "isn't violating any rules" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 2/15).

GHOST TWEETERS: The AP's John Leicester reported some Olympians are "turning over their social media accounts to sponsors, agreeing to quotas of postings on Twitter and Facebook and letting other people send commercial messages in their name." The agents for U.S. figure skaters Ashley Wagner and Gracie Gold said that sponsors "draft some of their tweets, plugging their brands." IMG's Yuki Saegusa, who reps Gold, said, "We get a list of tweets or social media things that need to be posted and then we approve them for her." Leicester noted although her agents "'encourage' Gold to post the pre-packaged commercial tweets to her 65,000 followers herself, sometimes others do it for her." Saegusa: "We're in a very new age now where a lot of advertising, or PR, or promotions, is social media. That's becoming a very important aspect of marketing." IMG's David Baden, who reps Wagner, said of the commercial tweets, "It's not like Ashley doesn't know about these. I mean we send her all these. She had to approve all of them, and so it's not that she does not know what is being said. She's seen it. She's part of this whole process. It's just that with her schedule, and if we can make things easier, what's the difference?" (AP, 2/16).
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