Itâ€™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. â€œGroundhog Day is coming? Letâ€™s put out a coupon for that: the more shadow the higher the discount!â€ 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 hasnâ€™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 Chinaâ€™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 â€™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 donâ€™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 â€œProud Sponsor of the Beijing Olympic Gamesâ€? 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 â€œMade for Beijingâ€ 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 Chinaâ€™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 havenâ€™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 â€œthe biggest sports marketing deal ever in Chinaâ€ 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.