One World, Many Slogans
By Christina L. Madden | April 4, 2008
In the run up to the 2008 Olympic Games, international companies are going for the gold in China's market.
The Olympics are an advertising dream because of the prestige associated with Olympic competition and the sheer number of people reached by the broadcast. The Games themselves are expected to break records this year, potentially attracting an audience of billions around the world. Given that the Olympic host is an emerging economy with an increasingly wealthy and expanding consumer base, companies see Olympic sponsorship as a path to increased market share.
"People, High Technology, Green" is China's theme for the Beijing Olympics, and companies are branding themselves accordingly. As part of its Ecomagination campaign, Olympic sponsor General Electric (GE) is providing water treatment technology, solar-powered LED lighting, and energy-efficient heating and cooling systems for Olympic venues. A GE water purification ad states: "A camel can go without water for 30 days. A growing economy can't."
The Olympics are also a chance for China to brand itself as a global leader pursuing a harmonious society. "One World One Dream" is the official Olympic slogan that sits atop the Great Wall, and the Olympic Torch set out last week on its Journey of Harmony across 21 countries, with the catchphrase "Light the Passion, Share the Dream." In January, Chinese President Hu Jintao called on officials of the nation's Publicity Department (formerly known as the Propaganda Department) to step up efforts to promote an image of China as unified and harmonious.
Just as China is using the Olympics to improve its image, some companies are using the Games to strengthen their corporate responsibility profiles. Samsung Electronics has put more than $1 million into building primary schools in rural China, and Coca-Cola launched a poverty alleviation project to provide 1,470 young farmers with skills such as toy production and mechanical repair.
But the Olympic brand isn't helping everyone. Law firm Morrison & Foerster, in an attempt to avoid potential business conflicts, handed its pro bono Tibetan asylum cases over to other firms when it put in its bid to counsel the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games Organizing Committee (BOGOC).
During competition for the Olympic bid, Mike Jendrzejczyk of Human Rights Watch argued that the Olympics might incentivize China to better conform to international human rights standards. Despite Beijing's emphasis on harmony, this hopeful assessment does not seem to be playing out.
Over 1,800 followers of the religious group Falun Gong have been arrested since January of this year. China's Ministry of Security said that such a crackdown is necessary to prepare for the Olympic Games. According to the Geneva-based Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions, 1.5 million people will be displaced as a result of Olympic development.
Human rights activists, particularly those concerned with China's role in Sudan, may very well be the fiercest opponents this summer. Backed by celebrities and scholars, the growing movement has dubbed the 2008 Olympics the "Genocide Games" and is calling for a boycott.
Beyond generating revenue and PR for sponsor companies, the Olympics may help to develop China's infrastructure and sustainable technology. But the long-term benefits of Olympic hosting are often debated. Beijing will be the first city to produce an Olympic Games Global Impact report, which tracks indicators of social, economic, and environmental well-being for 11 years to assess the before and after effects of the Games. When that report crosses the finish line, the world will see if there was substance behind the slogans.
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