How did Robertson get talked into inviting Virgin's über-marketer to the Olympics?
Just prior to the Christmas holidays, Vancouver's Olympic Mayor and his merry band of spinmeisters at 12th & Cambie were crowing about his new relationship with billionaire über-marketer Richard Branson. For the three people who don’t know who the eccentric Richard Branson is – and you'd have to be living under a rock to not – he’s one of the world’s biggest self-promoters who just announced he wants to send former Dallas star Victoria Principal to space. He also just happens to be the owner of Virgin Air, a British-based airline that is growing by leaps and bounds, Virgin Mobile and dozens of other mega marketing properties.
Once again, Branson seems to have pulled off another media coup. The owner of Virgin Air has somehow convinced the Olympic Mayor Gregor Robertson to help launch his new Carbon War Room concept during the 2010 Games. As a result, Branson is planning to hop aboard his fossil fuel driven plane next month and fly to Vancouver in order to make the special announcement. We can be pretty sure he's not canoeing to Vancouver in February.
At first blush the whole announcement appears to be so very Gregor like. Mayor flies to Europe and meets rich dude with a green bent who just happens to own a carbon emitting airline. Rich dude validates Mayor's flimsy green business plan by suggesting he'll invest here, then rich dude says he’ll fly back to Vancouver (on Virgin Air no doubt) during the Olympic Games to hold a joint news conference with the Mayor to talk about saving the environment. As with all of the Mayor's green ideas to date, the details regarding this latest scheme are hopelessly vague.
The one problem with this brainchild is that Virgin Air is not a 2010 Olympic sponsor. That distinction goes to Air Canada after they forked over big bucks to VANOC, the Games organizing committee. One has to wonder what the senior officials at Air Canada must have thought when Branson announced he had secured the Olympic mayor to attend his media event smack dab in the middle of the Olympic Games. My guess is they first wondered how much free publicity Virgin Air would receive out of this, and then they must have been choked with the Mayor’s support of what is tantamount to ambush marketing.
The fact that Branson chose to make his announcement during the Olympic Games in Vancouver is no coincidence. He surely must have realized the bulk of the world media will be here for 17 days and that Olympic sponsors will be getting lavished with attention. Therefore, what better way to help promote Virgin Air’s empire than to be standing by the Mayor who’ll be waving the Olympic rings in front of a billion people.
While the Mayor’s staffers may have thought it was a PR coup to lock down Branson in Vancouver, I think it is a real slap in the face to Air Canada and all the other Olympic sponsors who spent millions to ensure the Games are a success. The Mayor should have advised Branson that the timing of his announcement during the Games could be perceived as ambush marketing and perhaps he may want to pick another date – let's say pre or post Olympics.
I must offer Kudos to Branson and his PR team for coming up with a scheme that will likely see them get tons of free media in place of legitimate Olympic sponsors. The fact the Mayor agreed to do this during the Olympics is yet another serious err in judgement on his part.
There is still time for Robertson to take off his green coloured glasses and back out of the Branson event, but don’t count on it. The chance to get Robertson’s mugshot on the 6 o’clock BBC News is something his staff simply won’t pass up.