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Corporate Sponsors of Beijing Olympics Have Been Surprisingly Quiet on Upcoming Winter Games
Major corporate sponsors of the upcoming Winter Olympics have avoided their usual marketing campaigns, at least for now.
Last week, the Wall Street Journal reported on how major corporate sponsors of the Olympics – including Visa, Procter & Gamble, and Coca-Cola – have so-far avoided their usual Olympics-themed advertising campaigns:
P&G didn’t answer questions about its U.S. marketing around the Beijing Games compared with prior years. In an interview, P&G finance chief Andre Schulten said the company’s messaging focuses on the athletes and it leaves marketing decisions around China and the Olympics up to individual market leaders. “Every brand has their own context, there really is no global approach. It’s done tactically and individually by market,” he said. In China, “the focus is on the customer.”
Meanwhile, Coca-Cola is only advertising in China right now, but it has also been surprisingly silent on challenging China’s alleged human rights abuses:
Some of the same companies staying quiet now have spoken up on human-rights issues in other parts of the world. Coca-Cola, for instance, has raised human-rights concerns about Qatar ahead of another competition it sponsors, soccer’s World Cup, slated to be held in that country later this year. Human-rights organizations say Qatar has pressed migrant workers into inhumane and deadly conditions to construct World Cup stadiums. Qatar’s government denies those allegations and says it is committed to improving work conditions.
When asked in a Congressional hearing on why Coca-Cola wasn’t commenting in a similar manner, Coke’s global head of human rights Paul Lalli said, “We do not make decision on these host locations [ . . . ] We support and follow the athletes where they compete.”
The WSJ points out how Intel took a different approach, telling legislators that “he agreed with Washington’s assessment that Beijing was committing genocide in Xinjiang” and that he was “willing to ask the [International Olympic Committee] to postpone the Olympics to give China time to address the human-rights concerns.”
However, even Intel has recently wavered in taking a strong stance against China. In December, The Verge reported on how Intel issued an apology to partners and customers in China after it asked local suppliers to avoid sourcing from the Xinjiang region:
In its annual letter to suppliers, Intel said it was “required” to follow restrictions on Xinjiang trade imposed by “multiple governments” and would “ensure our supply chain does not use any labor or source goods or services from the Xinjiang region.” (That portion of the letter has now been removed from Intel’s website, but an archived version can be found here.)
This normally-procedural note caused a backlash in China. The letter went viral on Chinese social media, leading Chinese popstar Karry Wang, a former Intel ambassador, to cut ties with the firm (“National interest exceeds everything,” said Wang on social media), while nationalist outlet Global Times accused Intel of “biting the hand that feeds it.”
[ . . . ]
In response to this backlash, Intel apologized on Chinese social media sites on Wednesday. In a letter addressed to the Chinese public and local partners, Intel said it was limiting trade with Xinjiang only as a legal formality and not a political statement. “We apologize for the trouble caused to our respected Chinese customers, partners, and the public,” said the letter. “To clarify, the paragraph about Xinjiang in the letter is only for expressing the original intention of compliance and legality, not for its intention or position.”
It's worth keeping a close eye on how other sponsors will approach marketing and advertising for the games. But our prediction is that there will be more self-censorship or apologies issued.
Speaking of the Beijing Olympics, kudos to Jake Tapper at CNN for taking on China’s human rights abuses: