Coca-Cola is one of the top sponsors of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. But you wouldn’t know it if you lived in America.
Coke’s normally ubiquitous Olympic-related product marketing is nearly non-existent this year. At least in the US.
But if you live in Russia, Coke is everywhere. As the Olympic flame has been making its way through Russia this past week, Coke was there, making sure the crowds were holding all sorts of Coca-Cola-branded paraphernalia. Heck, Coca-Cola even put its logo on Olympic security officers who pounced on a gay rights advocate in Russia this past weekend.
“Coke is a huge story on its own,” says Ken Kidd of Queer Nation, a gay rights that’s been taking the lead in dogging Olympic sponsors, and friends of Putin. “Where are the in-store case cards and aisle promotions? Where are the Olympic rings on their cans and bottles? The sweepstakes tie-ins? Have you seen a Sochi Coke-themed commercial in the US? I certainly haven’t.”
I’d read that Coke is focusing a lot on Russia itself, to build its share of the Russian soft drink market. But still, to be missing in action in America is rather odd, and telling.
We know that Olympic sponsors – particularly American ones – have been squirming for months now, in response to the sustained outcry from gay rights advocates over Russia’s crackdown on its gay and trans citizens. The International Olympic Committee even admitted it back in September:
“I have heard a lot from the sponsors, especially the American sponsors, of what they are afraid of might happen,” IOC marketing commission chairman Gerhard Heiberg said. “I think this could ruin a lot for all of us,” he added, saying the IOC would enforce its rules against demonstrations.
Things are so bad, one marketing expert dubbed Sochi “the danger games” for advertisers.
And as if Coke didn’t have a big enough problem with the gays, BusinessWeek warned a few weeks ago that there is concern terrorists could target “events organized by corporate sponsors, which include U.S. giants Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, and Procter & Gamble.”
Ironically, after all the warnings about black widow suicide bombers infiltrating the Olympic Village, and Russian President Vladimir Putin suggesting that gay people have something to do with why Russians aren’t having enough babies, and that therefore Russia needs to “cleanse” itself of gays (Putin borrowed the phrase from Hitler), Russia’s original plan was to use the Sochi Olympics to showcase what a neat, modern country Russia had become:
[Russia's] original aim of hosting the Games, on which it has spent $50 billion, was to project itself on the global stage as a modern and forward-looking nation.