The Winter Olympics, which begin next month, are a tremendous marketing opportunity for sponsors and a showcase for corporations.
Beijing 2022, on the other hand, is causing major headaches for the Games’ 13 official corporate partners.
Many people are opting to remain silent in the midst of a diplomatic crisis between the United States and China.
China has been chastised by those nations for alleged human rights breaches against its minority Uyghur population, as well as its activities in Tibet and Hong Kong.
In comparison to last year’s Summer Games in Tokyo, the media study indicates a significant drop in tweets mentioning the Games from the Olympics’ global sponsors.
Media also reached out to all 13 Olympic partners for comment on China’s alleged human rights violations. None of them directly addressed the charges.
Rick Burton, the former top marketing officer for the US Olympic Committee at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, told media that global corporations were “walking a tightrope.”
“As global companies, I don’t think any of them can afford or are prepared to insult the Chinese government,” he argues.
Airbnb, Alibaba, Allianz, Atos, Bridgestone, Coca-Cola, Intel, Omega, Panasonic, Procter & Gamble, Samsung, Toyota, and Visa are the Olympics’ official global partners. They were all global partners for Tokyo 2020, with the exception of Allianz.
Many partners pushed social media content in the run-up to the Olympics in Japan, hyping up the Games.
For example, in the months leading up to the Games, French IT firm Atos tweeted dozens of times, and would routinely upload content commemorating the months, weeks, and days until the Games began.
It also released movies demonstrating how its technology was used at the Olympics.
Other large foreign partners tweeted about sponsored athletes and Olympic-related technologies on a frequent basis.
Those same accounts, on the other hand, rarely mention Beijing 2022, which runs from February 4 to February 20.
According to Diana Choyleva, head economist of Enodo Economics, “Visa, Coca-Cola, and others have retained an exceptionally modest marketing profile.”
She claims that the boycott by Washington is to blame.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) told media that its global partners are long-term and do not decide where the Games will be held.
It was stated that “commercial partners are not involved in the selection of Olympic and Paralympic hosts.”
However, the decision to award the Games to China has created a conundrum for Olympic partners.
The watchmaker Omega wanted to make it clear to media that they are sponsors of the Olympics, not the Games’ venue.
“First and foremost, we would like to emphasise that Omega is not a sponsor of Beijing 2022,” a company spokeswoman stated, adding that the business is the “official timekeeper and data manager of the Olympic Games.”
That hasn’t stopped it from using social media to commemorate previous Olympics, far more so than in Beijing 2022.
The issue is straightforward, and it will have been discussed in PR meetings in all of these corporations’ boardrooms.
The West will criticise you if you are extremely enthusiastic of the Games without mentioning accusations of human rights violations in China.
Any criticism of the Chinese government, on the other hand, may jeopardise economic opportunities in the country.
“We do not comment on anything outside of our function as the international IT partner of the Olympic and Paralympic Games,” Atos told media.
Mr Burton believes that firms have remained silent for a variety of reasons, including political considerations, but that there are also other variables at play.
“A lot of these sponsors just spent a lot of money in Tokyo a few months ago,” he says, “so there’s not only a little fatigue, but I think there are economic constraints.”
“Traditionally, the Winter Games have never been as big as the Summer Games.”
Others, on the other hand, feel Beijing 2022 will provide a long-term challenge to global firms.
“It will become increasingly difficult for multinationals to remain neutral in the great power competition between China and the United States,” Ms Choyleva predicts.
Apple, the most valuable firm on the planet, has long struggled with this issue. Its supply chain is primarily reliant on Chinese manufacturing, and China is a significant market for the company.
However, Tim Cook, the company’s CEO, is frequently chastised for being silent on China’s charges.
Human rights are something that all of the Olympic partners profess to care deeply about. However, when the World Uyghur Congress contacted them last year to request a meeting to discuss alleged human rights violations, they were met with silence, according to Zumretay Arkin of the World Uyghur Congress.
“These businesses constantly promote their beliefs, claiming to respect inclusivity, human rights, and other noble ideals. When it comes to China, however, it’s amazing how quiet they become “she explains.
She continues, “It’s all about money.”
Alibaba is the only Chinese Olympic partner, but it, too, is caught in the political stalemate. It has likewise kept a low profile on Western social media.
“Alibaba has a number of vulnerabilities,” says Scott Kennedy of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a China expert.
“They are not only listed on the New York Stock Exchange, but they also do major business with the United States through their trade platform and e-commerce,” he explains.
Chinese corporations are concerned about antagonising the United States, just as Western companies are concerned about antagonising China. TikTok, a Chinese video service, has discovered the hard way that enraging US presidents may be bad. In 2020, President Trump attempted to outlaw the platform.
Two Winter Olympics are most likely to take place. An Olympics in China, where Beijing 2022 is widely promoted by marketers, and an Olympics in the West, where the Games are rarely mentioned by brands.
“The frame will be different, and the issues will be different,” Mr Kennedy says.
“Even the way the results are interpreted will be different. And enterprises doing business on both sides of the divide will have to adapt “he declares
Beijing 2022 provides a glimpse into the future for international corporations, as they struggle to keep two global giants satisfied, each with their own set of values.