The 2014 Winter Olympics were set to be hosted in Sochi, Russia, with roughly 10 major global sponsors endorsing the highly anticipated events. The Olympics, being truly global events, attract major players like Procter&Gamble, McDonald's, Coca-Cola, General Electric…
However, as the Olympics neared, these global companies were facing immense pressure from the media, their consumers, their business partners and really from anyone with an opinion.
The issue lied in Russia's strict anti-gay laws and propaganda. Protests erupted in Melbourne, London, Paris and even St. Petersburg. Gay rights organization such as All Out sponsored trucks with pro-gay signage to drive around Coca-Cola HQ in Atlanta. Activists took to the streets to dump out Coca-Cola, symbolizing their discontent at Coca-Cola's ongoing sponsorship of the Olympic Games. The hashtag #CheersToSochi quickly trended as more and more discontent people joined the movement.
Even during the games, Swedish athletes painted their nails vivid rainbow colors as a statement, whilst Russian players from the women's relay team embraced and publicly kissed on the podium after winning. As such, the games started showing a growing potential for a highly charged, emotional and political event. Potential for arrests was very high, and the games were under intense scrutiny in the international media.
Since these major sponsors were mostly US-based companies, each sponsor was facing intense pressure at-home, and it quickly became a challenge for these brands.
Should the sponsors respect Russia's laws and culture, which are largely anti-gay and criminalize the LGBTQIA+ community, or should they take a stance and join the protests in solidarity, thus risking their sponsorship?
As it relates to our class session on cross-cultural marketing, there is the issue of the self'-reference criterion. Essentially, it's the natural tendency of a company to evaluate what they see through the lens of of their own experience, environment, and by extension, cultures and norms. This criterion could very well be the downfall of a company.
To Westerners, specifically in the US, it seems pretty self-evident that the “right” decision for companies is to stand by the LGBTQIA+ community, and refuse Russia's strict laws. However, when we consider that other countries in the Middle East or in Africa also grossly and legally denounce homosexuality and persecute it, the decision becomes that much harder. It's hard for me to write this and critically evaluate the situation, because of my own self-reference criterion. But from a business perspective, should companies sacrifice their brand, their earnings, their standing in an international market, for a cause that is only deemed valid in more Western Countries?
Tough questions, right? Especially if you're an aspiring businessperson, who will undoubtedly eventually operate in global markets. Where do you draw the line when doing business?
Share your thoughts in the comments section!
Thank you for reading – MK