Will it be Mayor McRobertson sipping on his Diet-Coke driving a GM Equinox he paid for on his Visa during the Games? Don't count on it.
Over the last couple of weeks we’ve brought up the issue of ambush marketing, a term used to describe when one company capitalizes on an event or product sponsored by a competitor. With tens of thousands of media descending on Vancouver in the next few weeks, the Games represent one of the biggest opportunities to ambush market on the planet. That’s because companies like Coca Cola, MacDonald’s, Visa, General Motors, General Electric and CTV, to name but a few, have forked over big bucks to be associated with the Games and its athletes. Those sponsor bucks are used to help pay for the Games and ensure they actually break even.
One of the most recent high profile examples of ambush marketing was lululemon unveiling a wintry line of clothing in honour of a "Cool Sporting Event That Takes Place in British Columbia Between 2009 and 2011." Their campaign was very cheeky and it got them lots of free press. This is likely just what they were looking for to help boost sales – potentially at the expense of HBC, the official clothing provider for the Games. It was a classic ambush marketing scenario and it did not amuse officials over at VANOC who accused the clothing manufacturer of being unpatriotic.
In politics there are also many good examples of ambush marketing. I recall vividly over the last couple of decades when the BC NDP and BC Liberals would be holding their annual political conventions, a member of the opposition would show up to speak to the hoards of media present. More often than not, that evening on the 6 o’clock news the mug shot of the opposition member would pop up. This would use up precious newscast time that would otherwise be dedicated to showing clips of a perfectly choreographed Premier delivering his/her speech. It was classic ambush marketing – and good politics.
There are also circumstances when politicians, commerce and ambush marketing all happen to converge at the same time. In the last week or so, we gave you a couple of stellar examples of how Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson’s decision to drive a Mitsubishi (GM is the official Olympic sponsor) vehicle and his support of Virgin Airways billionaire Richard Branson (Air Canada is the official Olympic airline) has raised some eyebrows.
The Mayor’s staff argue he’s under no obligation to endorse anyone or anything he doesn’t want to. Guess what....they’re right. However, that still doesn’t mean common sense shouldn’t prevail.
During our regular civic affairs panel on CKNW this week, fellow panelists Frances Bula and Jim Green scoffed at the notion that GM or Air Canada would be even mildly upset with the Mayor’s decision to promote non-sponsor products. Green (one of the Mayor’s senior unpaid advisors) even went so far as to say if GM was concerned about the thought of Robertson driving up to an Olympic photo op in his battery powered I Miev, they were just being “petty”.
In classic tag team fashion, Bula then chimed in and attacked me by asking that I confirm if Robertson’s running shoes were produced by the right sponsor. Green then tried a knockout punch by telling me I should check out the Mayor’s fridge to see if he drank Coke instead of Pepsi. Ha, ha, ha...this was all one big joke.
The notion that the sponsors who helped pay for the Games deserved any kind of special recognition appears to be a foreign concept to my panel colleagues. In fact, Bula went one step further by stating that Olympic sponsors have already had enough attention. Go figure.
As host Bill Good rightly pointed out, it is the sponsors that help pay for the Games, alongside government. If they see little value coming out of their sponsorship, you can expect they’ll not only gripe, they’ll back away all together from funding the Games.
As for His Worship and whether he’s under any obligation to drink Coke, eat Big Macs all day and drive a GM Equinox – he’s not. However, a bit of common sense and political aptitude would tell you that you during the 17 days of the Games, the host Mayor will be watched like a hawk by the international media. If he appears to snub a sponsor by openly endorsing another, he better be prepared to take the heat. Something we all know he's loathe to do.
Oddly enough, a new controversy is just emerging out of Vancouver’s Library Board due to the fact they are trying to adhere to Olympic sponsor guidelines. They’ve sent a memo around asking any non-Olympic sponsor planning an event at the main branch during the Games to tone down any brand presence. Sounds like a pretty reasonable request to me.
Do you not find it a tad ironic that on one hand Vancouver staff is asking everyone to adhere to sponsor guidelines, while the Mayor is sending the opposite message by providing ambush marketing opportunities for Mitsubishi and Virgin Airways?
Is this a case of do as I say, not as I do? Or, are the hard working staff at Vancouver’s public libraries being attacked for upholding the rules while their boss is openly flaunting them during his prolonged media honeymoon. You can expect to hear more...a lot more about VANOC's Olympic sponsors in the weeks to come.