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How are brands engaging with Sochi 2014?

As we all know, plenty of controversy has surrounded the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics. The Games have hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons, from opposition surrounding the country’s anti-gay laws to controversy around the safety of the event.

The feeling amongst the UK couldn’t be more different to August 2012 when London prepared to host the almighty 2012 Olympic Games. So how are brands getting involved?

Tim Crow, chief executive of sponsorship agency Synergy, told Marketing last week that UK brands were not necessarily that keen to concentrate on activity around the Winter Games.

“We’re not seeing [sponsors] go hard in the UK because we’re not a winter-sports nation,” he said.

“In the US, which is the biggest and most important Olympic market, the Winter Games will be absolutely huge.”

We’ve taken a look at how some global brands are engaging with Sochi 2014, particularly those joining the campaign to tackle anti-gay laws. There are a few UK examples included, where we could find them.

#1 Google

The internet search giant has ever-so-cooly produced a Sochi themed Google Doodle on Friday, in rainbow colours to symbolise their support of gay rights. Russia’s legislation outlaws pro-gay “propaganda” that could be accessible to minors, and campaigners say it stamps out virtually any public expression of support for gay rights.

Well, what better way to express support than to promote gay rights on the world’s most visited website? The Google Doodle also received a lot of positive press, and was trending on Twitter.

Underneath the image was a quote from the Olympic Charter that states ‘every individual must have the possibility of practicing sport’. Nice one Google.


#2 Channel 4

In a similar fashion, Channel 4 showcased an advertising campaign on Friday called “Gay Mountain”, a tongue-in-cheek ad which will run for a week. The ad features a cabaret act singing a song which includes lyrics such as “good luck gays, on gay mountain”.

Another classic example of Channel 4’s ‘provocative and experimental’ values, but at least for a much better cause than Benefits Street. The broadcaster’s distinctive logo was also rebranded for the day.

Channel 4

#3 Visa

One of the main worldwide Olympic sponsors, Visa has enlisted the help of professional Vine artist Ian Padgham (@origiful) to produce some creative promotional videos that showcase the different sports. A nice partnership, as he already has a loyal following of over 18,000 on Twitter.

However the campaign has already received some backlash from supporters who are angry that there has been no mention, or support for gay rights.



Visa Tweet

#4  McDonalds

Another big Olympic sponsor, McDonald’s launched a relatively unimaginative social media campaign inviting fans to send good  luck wishes to their favorite athletes and teams competing in Sochi 2014, by using the hashtag #CheersToSochi. However, as with most big branded hashtag promotions these days, the timing was all wrong and the barrier to entry too low, and campaigners soon hijacked the hashtag with LGBT support.

The company, which is usually good at responding personally to fan messages on Twitter, fell silent and later issued a statement which said “We believe the Olympic Games should be open to all, free of discrimination, and that applies to spectators, officials, media and athletes.” When will brands ever learn with hashtags?

#5 Red Bull

Extreme sports giant Red Bull is the ultimate example of a brand becoming a media property and publisher, rather than just a beverage company. The demographic they aim for does not react well to a hard sell, and is commonly skeptical of global brands.

So how are they supporting the Winter Olympics? By sponsoring a number of the top athletes set to win big at Sochi 2014, including Canada’s Mark McMorris, a medal favourite.

Red Bull

David Common’s report for The National on Red Bull’s marketing tactics is an interesting watch that shows how the brand approaches extreme events such as Sochi 2014. Other than their sponsorship of athletes, the brand has not mentioned Sochi anywhere in social media or on their website yet.

Over the weekend, when Jenny Jones made history by winning Great Britain’s first medal on snow, it was interesting to see how brands got involved in the conversation. A quick search on Twitter shows that many were just interested in congratulating the snowboarder from Bristol, rather than chiming in on any political conversation. Adidas was a classic example, where the brand tweeted an inspiring image and caption that can be easily shared – and it was 1,179 times and counting.


It’s interesting to see how brands like Google and Channel 4 have managed to use their power and influence to campaign for issues that their audiences feel strongly about. Since neither are official sponsors, they are also good examples of subtle associations to side step the anti-ambush rules protecting the event.

Perhaps it’s an idea for the official sponsors such as McDonalds and Visa to really think about the consequences of their silence, and assess whether they should be using social media to address the interests of their customers – not ignore them.

It will be interesting to see how brands continue to speak about Sochi over the duration of the Games, and whether we will see any more protests against the top sponsors online.



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