It’s not our Olympics: Retailers omit mention of sponsorships in American advertising

Merchants are often desperate for any excuse to run a promotion or distribute a coupon. “Groundhog Day is coming? Let’s put out a coupon for that: the more shadow the higher the discount!” With such a mindset typical in most marketing departments, I am very surprised that the Olympics are starting next week and there has been barely a flutter of notice in the affiliate industry.

Now I realize association with China is still a risky proposition for American retailers. Not that the International Olympic Committee hasn’t put forward the effort to make everything seem hunky dory. The multi-million dollar campaign focusing on peeking behind the wall is slick and inviting. It makes the Beijing Olympics seem shrouded in mystery and splendor. It emphasizes China’s celebrated history andinfers that despite the horrendous tragedy of the Sichuan earthquake the country has recovered to proudly host these Games.

That sentiment is not reflected in the advertising campaigns I have seen online from retailers. This is not like the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta where advertisers jumped to make sure they were part of it (although, of course, in ’96 the focus was offline). Certainly if the 2008 Olympics were being held by a Western nation both the coverage and the retail merchant involvement would be far greater.

For example, Staples is listed as an exclusive supplier of office furniture for the Beijing Olympics. The move makes sense; the $30 billion dollar office product market in China is very appealing and this could be a big first step into that market. Staples does have an affiliate program on Commission Junction. Now obviously office supplies don’t have a direct connection to sports. I would hardly expect Staples to put out a bunch of banners showing athletes hurdling over desks. But how about at least a small line that says “Proud Sponsor of the Beijing Olympic Games”? Nothing. Not a single mention on the 192 pieces of creative they have posted on CJ, nor on the homepage of their website.

I decided to look at a sports retailer who is a far bigger sponsor of the Games, someone like Adidas. After all, the Olympics would tie in nicely with their creative and they also have a program on Commission Junction. Again, of their 76 pieces of creative on CJ not one mentioned the Olympics, although they did have a section of merchandise that one the store portion of their website that was “Made for Beijing” which is available if an affiliate is looking within that data feed.

The Chinese government does of course have a massive human rights problem which might cause retailers to think twice about sponsoring international events in China.After all, the majority of news articles these days are less about the Games themselves and more about China’s inability to play nice. The news ranges from the Monty Pythonesque blocking of internet access to international reporters who are covering the Games to the much more totalitarian repression of people who are outspoken against Chinese governmental policies. The hosting of the games was granted to China by the IOC after assurances were made those human rights issues would improve. It should come with little surprise that they haven’t magically improved. Old habits are difficult to break.

But I am skeptical that companies like Staples or Adidas who signed what Adidas officials referred to as the “the biggest sports marketing deal ever in China” are boycotting putting up advertising creative mentioning the Beijing Games due to human rights concerns.Unfortunately concerns about human rights rarely come before corporate profit.

This is not to give an impression that nothing creative has been developed around the games. Adidas does have an ultra slick set of commercials focusing on a Chinese audience for the games: It is not the kind of placement you will see on American television. The high production value in the ad could be designed for an American audience and could be reproduced in collateral for affiliate banners. But Adidas chose not to. This lack of engagement within the affiliate channel and other online marketing channels seems like a tactical choice on behalf of their respective PR departments. The sentiment seems to be, let American buyers focus on our products rather than our sponsorship of the Olympics.

It looks like the majority of the affiliate industry will be indeed boycotting the Beijing Olympics but perhaps not for the right reasons.

About Angel Djambazov

Born in Bulgaria, Angel Djambazov has spent his professional career in the fields of journalism and online marketing. In his journalistic career he worked as an editor on several newspapers and was the founding Editor-in-Chief of Wyoming Homes and Living Magazine. Later his career path led to online marketing where while working at OnlineShoes he earned the Affiliate Manager of the Year (2006) award at the Affiliate Summit, and In-house Manager of the Year (2006) award by ABestWeb.

For four years Angel served as OPM for Jones Soda for which he won his second Affiliate Manger of the Year (2009) award at Affiliate Summit.

Currently Angel serves as OPM for KEEN Footwear and His former clients include: Dell, Real Networks, Jones Soda, Intelius, Graphicly, Chrome Bags,, Vitamin Angels, The Safecig, and Bag Borrow or Steal.

Angel is the Editor-in-Chief and Co-Publisher for and

Angel lives north of Seattle, spending his free time reading up on obscure scientific references made by his wife MGX, while keeping up with a horde of cats and a library of books.

You can find Angel on Twitter @djambazov.

4 Responses to It’s not our Olympics: Retailers omit mention of sponsorships in American advertising

  1. Pat Grady says:

    Darn doping situation means many companies would be very reluctant to do anything that's specific to any individual athlete, or perhaps any individual event either.

    But I agree with you, the overall games are still a great opportunity for brand marketers, and I have also noticed that something seems different this go around.

  2. this is a really interesting article, and highlights the lack of cross channel co-operation that stil exists in most large brand companies. Is it because they don't consider the affiliate channel important enough to bother tooling out a new banner set or is it simply a fact of not having an affiliate management team that's dedicated to the channel?

    As any affiliate manager worth his or her salt knows you constantly have to look at what your company or client is doing and LEVERAGE what you can into the affiliate channel. Very few companies have a top-down all encompassing marketing approach.

    Pity though, adidas, staples and other sponsors are missing out on enormous branding opportunities that they've paid dearly for.

    With the upcoming 2010 world cup in South Africa we're already working with prominent sponsors to filtrate their messaging through to the affiliate programs.

  3. Jonathan,

    I think the World Cup also lacked in some love which is too bad because it was very enjoyable and I know many even non-soccer fans who tuned in. I think you make a good point that is up to the affiliate manager to leverage these kinds of opportunities. I also think companies need to expand the scope of their thinking to better engage a global audience.

    I will be interested to see what you have cooking for the 2010 World Cup.


  4. rob says:

    it has been interesting to see the number of "non-olympic" olympic tv ads with "summer olympic" type sports footage to sell stuff. seems several advertisers want to be part of the games glory but not to pay the price to be offical sponsors.