mktg Sochi Insights: The Risk of Contradiction In A Global Marketplace
With the 2014 Sochi Olympics completed, there are important lessons that sponsors can learn from the flurry of brand activity that has taken place over the last few weeks. One of those lessons is all about authenticity. Sponsorship is about standing for something as a brand. It is about authenticating your relationship with customers and contextualizing your brand values. In the context of sports, being an official team sponsor is a way for companies to communicate their fandom of that team. But when the investment portfolio of a sponsor grows, and they begin to stand for multiple things, and support multiple different properties, it is important for brands to consider the common denominator in their network of properties: their own brand. When brands engage in the sponsorship of either multiple athletes or multiple sports teams, they must consider whether or not supporting a new property will conflict or dilute any of their current investments. With rivalries being core the sports fan experience, this truth is amplified in sports sponsorships.
This lesson is one that has been hammered home during the 2014 Sochi Olympics for Budweiser. Budweiser, who has already faced criticism from the marketing community for being one of the most prominent ambushers during this Olympic cycle, has been made a target by competitor and official sponsor of the Canadian Olympic Committee and Hockey Canada, Molson Canadian. In a recent ad taken out in the Globe & Mail, Molson Canadian draws attention to the fact that while Budweiser has been communicating support for the Canadian National Team, they are in fact an official sponsor of the U.S. Olympic Committee. By attempting to stand for both the Canadian and American Olympic teams, the brand exposed themselves to appearing disloyal and hypocritical.
In a digital and globalized age, brands who are not transparent and authentic expose themselves to appearing out-of-touch with their consumers and scrambling from a messaging perspective.
Firstly, Molson has turned ambush from a vulnerability into an advantage and created a best-practice case study for sponsors to follow. Molson has used Bud's challenge as an opportunity to prove their authentic relationship with Hockey Canada and the COC. In many respects, they have managed to make consumers care about something that was previously important to only marketers (ambush sponsorship) and they have done it by tying a link between "official sponsor" and "true supporter" in a way that fits with their overall narrative.
Secondly, Molson capitalized on the fact that Budweiser's narrative truly lacked an overarching theme. They cheered for USA and they Cheered for Canada. But what did they stand for? IOC TOP partners like Visa, P&G, and McDonald's and some ambushers have tried transcending any individual country by supporting the Olympic Spirit and with a stateless approach to sponsorship. By choosing to play the role of "avid fan", Bud forgot they were playing it with two teams.