Friday, January 28, 2022

Report: Olympic Advertisers Laying Low

Just a week before the opening ceremony of the 2022 Olympic Winter Games, U.S. television viewers can be forgiven for forgetting the date, or even that it is taking place in Beijing, China.

Unlike any Games in recent memory, the nearly 20 official international and national Olympic sponsors have laid low, ducking the press and viewers by holding back on the advertising blitz that typically kicks off months ahead the "let the Games begin" pronouncement.

By Wednesday, only two spots had launched, both of which focus on athletes with no mention of the host country, with which the United States is feuding on diplomatic and economic fronts.

Over the course of the Games, ad agency executives and advertisers told Reuters that viewers should expect ads to continue to downplay the location and ignore any hint of politics to avoid drawing attention to geopolitical conflict and the hot glare of the Chinese government.

Corporate sponsors and advertisers for the Beijing Olympics, which begin on Feb. 4 and run through Feb. 20, have come under fire for what human rights groups say is the enabling of China's alleged abuses against Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities in the country. China denies those allegations.

Global Olympic sponsors were grilled by a bipartisan congressional panel in July, which accused the companies of putting profits ahead of accusations of genocide in China.

"The halo is tarnished," said Mark DiMassimo, founder of New York-based ad agency DiMassimo Goldstein, which represents brands that are not official sponsors but plan to air commercials during the Olympics.

He said his clients decided to strip from their campaigns mentions of traditional Olympic themes - friendly competition, global unity and good sportsmanship - shortly after the Biden administration announced a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Olympics last month.

When Reuters asked the global and Team USA sponsors about marketing plans for the Olympics, only two responded, one of which declined to comment.

This year's response is a big departure from Olympics past, when advertisers crafted ads that embraced the spirit of the Games and honored the culture of the host country.

With the political controversy and the pandemic once again preventing spectators from traveling to the Games, viewers this time around can expect to see fewer mentions of the host city, said Jeremy Carey, managing director of ad agency Optimum Sports, a unit of Omnicom Media Group.

"It's a challenge, quite frankly," he said. "The connection isn't as prevalent as it would normally be."

Focusing on the athletes competing on the global stage is considered the safest strategy for brands, experts said.

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