With the opening of the 2014 Winter Olympics, all eyes are on the Black Sea city of Sochi as Russia hosts its first ever winter games under a cloud of controversy.
As we tune-in to the all the pageantry, athleticism and spirited competition, the 88 countries participating in the games become the dominant global brands right before our eyes. It will be interesting to see which delegations rise to the occasion and claim brand gold.
To say Russia starts from the back of the pack is an understatement. The country’s tough stance on civil freedoms has come under fire from all corners of the world — and the costs, estimated to hit $50 billion, amid allegations of corruption, is the most expensive Winter Olympics ever. Add to it increased security tensions, and the heightened terror risk following recent attacks on Volgograd, it casts an inauspicious gloom over the Olympic city.
These headlines underscore the importance of dominant brands and partners, including Coca-Cola, Samsung, McDonalds and Visa. These brands and others advertising during the games are keenly aware of reputation as the skiing, skating, hockey, bobsled, luge and other popular events play out on the world stage.
While most brands are staying with their Olympic plans, they must consider the new implications in today’s real-time global marketplace. It’s certainly a calculated risk, but still has broad appeal to a public that thirsts for positive, patriotic vibes to take them away from daily stress and challenges.
The 2008 Olympics in Beijing attracted its fair share of negative publicity prior to the event, with large numbers of activists protesting the Games, causing a headache for sponsors. Yet in the eyes of audiences around the world, Beijing was a success — even if its legacy for the people of China was somewhat more mixed. Meanwhile, even London 2012 was not without inevitable criticism and doubt over the weather, cost and morale.
However, it is the sporting achievements themselves that endure in the minds of consumers, and negativity towards Olympics host countries shouldn’t necessarily deter brands.
The event itself is a great sporting spectacle, so more concerning for sponsors than the continued doubt over Russia’s suitability as an Olympic host country will be whether it can deliver ROI.
Sponsors of major sporting events, from the World Cup to the Tour de France, run certain risks in undertaking investment in sports individuals and events, with the associated possibility of damage to their reputation arising from any tension, social media missteps, drug mistakes or personal scandal.
So as these Olympics play out, sponsors face increased possibility of reputational risk as political debate looks set to increase around a city and a Games mired in controversy. Now as the curtains have been pulled back and the games have begun, it seems the world has taken its collective seat and is basking in yet another spirit filled competition, where the athletes – not the troubles of terrorism or other world violence – are center stage!
Best ads of Super Bowl XLVIII, Spin Cycle style
Let’s face it, the Super Bowl, ended very early on the field, as the Seattle Seahawks trounced The Denver Broncos in every phase of the game. So, with very little left to cheer, the world quickly turned its attention to the creativity of commercials.
With that being said, here are the Top 5 Super Bowl ads as ranked by the Spin Cycle — who also serves on the USA TODAY Ad Meter Panel:
1. Budweiser “ Puppy Love”
Animals and pets always grab the hearts and minds of viewers, and this gem by Budweiser didn’t upset. This puppy just couldn’t lose! In what was very much a dog of a game, this precious ad about a spunky pup who is adopted but keeps coming back home to the Clydesdale horse it loves, took the top prize — and won USA TODAY’S 2014 Super Bowl Ad Meter.
2. Dannon’s Oikos Yogurt “The Spill”
Too bad this didn’t air until late in the fourth quarter, when much of the world had tuned out. But it was priceless humor that poked fun at yogurt-related oral pleasures with spokesman John Stamos and a beautiful young woman, but interrupted just in the nick of time by his former “Full House” costars Bob Saget and David Couilier.
3. Radio Shack “The Phone Call”
This venerable electronics chain did something that few brands have the heart to risk as it updates it stores and image — it acknowledged reality and perception that the brand is a relic. So, the young store employee, after answering the phone, announces, “The 80s called. They want their store back.” And in a perfectly Super Bowlian moment, in storms a horde of 80s icons, real and imaginary. Mary Lou Retton, Twisted Sister’s Dee Snyder, Alf, Ponch, Kid (and Play), Hulk Hogan, Chucky and more. After they ransack the place, we’re treated to the updated look of Radio Shack. Whether or not that convinces people to walk into the stores remains to be seen, but altogether a solid attempt to refresh its reputation.
4. Chevy “Romance”
While this spot might have taken a page from Bud Light with its raunchy humor approach, it was still quite awesome. And this ad, too, involved a slew of animals – these from the bovine persuasion. It was also refreshing. When we’ve been inundated with an entire football season of Silverado’s earnest spots that all start with “A man. A man and his truck. A man, his truck and…” -— the addition of a stud bull (literally) and a soundtrack featuring Hot Chocolate’s “You Sexy Thing” is a refreshingly splendid change of pace.
5. T-Mobile “No Contract, No Worries” and “Still No Contract”
Perhaps Tim Tebow’s best NFL — and Denver Broncos — moment was not on the football field, but in an ad for a mobile phone company. The message was brilliant! Turns out his actual skills (or lack thereof) took care of that. A flash-in-the-pan run for the Broncos a few years back netted him deals with Jockey and TiVo, but now the Heisman Trophy winner is contract-less. Which is great news for T-Mobile and Super Bowl viewers, because these two spots are on message for the product and for Tebow, who gamely makes light of his own situation as he enjoys life sans contracts. The joke might fly over the heads of non-football fans. But you know what? We deserve some jokes just for us.
Golden Mic | CVS Caremark
CVS, the largest pharmacy chain in the United States, took a major stand when it said it will stop selling cigarettes and other tobacco products in all of its 7,600 stores by next October. It’s the first time any drugstore has ever dropped this deadly cash cow, and it is part of a major shift in direction for the drugstore giant. How refreshing that a major brand that peddles health is abandoning a product that the Surgeon General blames for 480,000 deaths every year from heart disease, lung cancer and strokes.
The decision gained immediate praise from the American Medical Association, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the American Cancer Society. The move – although costly, expecting to cost the company some $2 billion a year – will pay off in pure gold in reputation and brand identity. It underscores CVS’ long-term goal of becoming a central player in the U.S. health care system that interacts ever more closely with patients, giving flu shots, reminding them when they are not filling prescriptions, and, through its 800 Minute Clinic in-store nurse practitioner stations, prescribing medicines. For that, CVS get’s this week’s Golden Mic.
Each week, The Spin Cycle will bestow a Golden Mic Award to the person, group or company in the court of public opinion that best exemplifies the tenets of solid PR, marketing and advertising — and those who don’t. Stay tuned — and step-up to the mic! And remember … Amplify Your Brand!
» Todd Smith is president and chief communications officer of Deane, Smith & Partners, a full-service branding, PR, marketing and advertising firm with offices in Jackson. The firm — based in Nashville, Tenn. — is also affiliated with Mad Genius. Contact him at email@example.com, and follow him @spinsurgeon.