The Opening Ceremony of the 2012 Summer Olympics kicks off today, and let's hope the spirit of the Olympics kicks in. As you may recall from your world history lessons, the original intention of the games is for the world's nations to set aside strife, come together in peace, and celebrate human achievement. From what I've read, these games have seen lots of strife, sometimes from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the London organizers themselves.
A few highlights:
- McDonald's and Coca-Cola have come under attack for sponsoring the athletic event because of the obesity problems that many countries face. While of course the health issues are much more complex and these two companies offer a variety of healthier products, the outcries simplify all blame on these two.
- Similarly, Dow Chemical, which bought Union Carbide, came under attack because of the 1984 Bhopal, India, gas leak that killed 25,000 people. Union Carbide paid victims $470 million in compensation, and Dow bought the company nearly 20 years later, in 2001. The chemical company provided a plastic wrap for the main stadium.
- Lesson learned: Pay attention to the reputation of your sponsors as it relates to your event or organization, or be prepared to jump into the dialogue in someway. Options include saying no to a sponsor, getting caught in the fray, or working with your sponsor to promote its brands in better alignment with your organization or event.
- The IOC has generated a rash of negative publicity by being pretty heavy-handed about use of the Olympics name and logo and the rights of its sponsors, especially in anticipation of ambush marketers. Certainly protecting sponsors' rights is an important part of its work, but where do we draw the line without tipping into an Orwellian world? (I saw Anthony Burgess speak at the Barbican Centre in 1984 on 1984. A prolific literary writer, perhaps best known for A Clockwork Orange, written 50 years ago and inspired by Orwell's work, would he be bemused or aghast?) One report has the IOC president clarifying its position on what not to wear, following news that people showing up for events with a t-shirt or gear of a brand competitive to a sponsor would be denied entry.
- In earlier news, small businesses near London jumping in on the Olympics excitement were busted for using the rings in handcrafted knitting and floral displays.
- Observation: To be clear, when we produce events, we want people to get excited about them and get on board. There are plenty of ways to do that while still protecting trademarks and the rights of sponsors. Does the IOC have a right to safeguard its name and proprietary value? Absolutely. Does it make a shred of sense to be heavy handed with knitters and florists? No. A giant gray area exists in between. When taxpayer dollars are concerned and taxpayer's lives will be disrupted, it's a good idea to aim for this gray area.
- American politicians had a field day with U.S. Olympic Team sponsor Ralph Lauren who made American athletes' uniforms. In China. When the number one issue on Americans' minds is jobs. As it probably is in China.
This list could go on and on. Here's the deal. These companies make the Olympics possible. We need their not insubstantial investments, and they deserve to see a return on those investments. (P&G has already projected theirs.)
These Games show us the impact of an ever-more socially networked society – greater scrutiny, more critique, and a need for greater accountability.
We also see the need for balance and good judgement. We can't spurn audiences, send wrong messages, nor become so overly controlling that we take the joy out of the event.
As I head off, I leave you with one of a wonderful summation of the Olympics and why we're drawn them, from the Wall Street Journal. Sports columnist Jason Gay writes:
The Urgency of the Moment
I think the Olympics begin when the Games first surprise you. Maybe it's when you're initially tuning in, looking for an event you thought would be on, only to get drawn into something else. Maybe it's a sport you've never seen, with rules you barely understand, and athletes you don't know. Maybe it's a game you haven't played since high school.
Either way, you are a virgin to the contest—you have no prior knowledge, you know no backstory, you have no favorite. This Olympic moment exists only in the present for you. But after 20 minutes or so, you're fully transfixed. You are consumed and invested. Twenty minutes ago, you had no thoughts about this competition. Now you are on your feet.
It thrills you. It breaks your heart. It moves you like nothing else, because these Games, which come only once every four years, are, if nothing else, urgent and consequential and definitive. The Olympics don't just determine the best in the world—they offer history. The smallest moment has a powerful meaning, the chance of being remembered forever.
That's when you know. That's when the Olympics really start.
Let the Games begin.