How can global brands support the arts and culture and not alienate them

Just read an article in the Evening Standard about how brands will take over London during the Olympics next year (Mihir Bose, Evening Standard, 22.08.2011).

As everyone in the industry know, sponsoring the Olympics represents one of the biggest investment yet most attractive opportunities for global brands, therefore it does make sense that they protect their investment and make sure their branding is well represented and ‘protected’ from being diluted. However, if you consider some of the tactics being planned to ensure the best return of their investment, we cannot help but think, will there be any negative connotation out of what it seems to be a ‘spoon fed’ branding exercise.

The article highlighted some examples how brands will be doing whatever they can to protect their investment and how the Olympic committee actually openly supporting, encouraging and facilitating that. I quote some of the highlights here:

  • Volunteers for Olympics will carry some masking tape in their hands and actively looking out for groups of people wearing T-shirts advertising rival products to the official sponsors. If they are found being of ’promotional purpose’ (according to Clause 19.2.3 from the London Organising Committee website) they can get them to wear the T-shirts inside out. And if that doesn’t work, they will use masking tape to cover up the advertisement so it’s not visible on television.
  • At hotels that are recognized as “Olympic family” (e.g. London’s Hiltons and InterContinentals and the Dorchester) where the top officials will be staying, Perrier, a rival product of official sponsor Coca-Cola, will not be served. Instead, customers will get Coke’s bottled water, Schweppes Abbey Well, instead.
  • The only credit card people could use at all Olympics venues will be Visa, a major Olympic sponsor.
  • As a main Olympic sponsor, McDonalds is the only food that will be served at London 2012 venues (except Wimbledon as McDonalds has not taken up the rights).
  • Wimbledon will have to cover up its Rolex advertising despite the long time loyalty of the brand to the sport.
  • O2 will be temporarily renamed the North Greenwich Arena, as BT is an Olympic sponsor.
  • An exception – at Heathrow you can still see advertisements for HSBC, a rival of Lloyds TSB, which is a major 2012 sponsor.
  • The organisers are already working with BAA to make sure there are advertisements for Olympic sponsors at London airports – to make sure that you will come face to face with the sponsors once visitors arrive at the capital.

Commercial sponsorship is vital in contributing to the sustainability of arts and cultural events. When Sebastian Coe revealed a sponsorship agreement with Lloyds TSB in 2008, believed to be in the region of £80m, he said:

“…We are delighted. We have to raise a lot of money to stage an Olympic Games, from a number of revenue streams, and bringing in business partners who share our vision for the Games is very important for a privately-financed organisation…It is very important that we hit our targets and that we do it with partners who really understand what this whole project is about and we couldn’t want for a better partner on the road to 2012.”

I advice brands on making the most in sponsorships, at the same time, I am also a cultural advocate. I cannot help but think on both sides of the fence: 

Is brand domination the best tactic in maximising exposure? Is sponsoring the Olympics simply about share of voice? Apart from what it seems to be commercialisation of culture, how can sponsors contribute to the community in return for their fight for attention? How can brands make sure their sponsorships open up dialogues with people rather than alienating them?

Is there a better sponsorship model for global events like the Olympics that we should consider in the future?

One thing is for certain. The time when brands ‘talk at consumers’ has long gone. Sponsorship is not just about brand association and awareness but bring to life what the brand want consumers to feel about them.

Watch some of the good examples from a major sponsor:

Coca-Cola’s Future Flames TVC:

Coca-Cola’s LIve Positively initiative: