Brands struggle with sexuality and sport

6 February 2014
NEW YORK: Coca-Cola sparked a firestorm of comment with its Super Bowl ad featuring a gay couple and other brands and agencies are also looking to tie in gay themes ahead of the Winter Olympics in Sochi.

The New York Daily News reported that much of the social media response, and that of conservative commentators, to Coca-Cola's ad complained that "America the beautiful" was sung in several languages other than English, while some also expressed concern that a gay couple had appeared.

But others praised the company for embracing the ideal of the US as a melting pot with one pundit pointing out the song in question had been written by a gay woman.

Meanwhile, a Russian ban on "gay propaganda" has angered gay rights campaigners who plan to use the Opening Ceremony of the Winter Olympics in Sochi as a day of protest against the International Olympic Committee and its commercial partners.

Coca-Cola has been drawn into that row, Marketing Week reported, as campaigners said that, despite its Super Bowl ad, it had been unwilling to express "explicit criticism or concern about the new homophobic legislation".

Christian Schroeder of branding agency Lambie-Nairn told The Drum that it had become increasingly difficult for brands and sporting events to exist in a bubble where politics did not intrude, thanks to global media coverage and the explosion of social media.

"The Winter Olympics in Sochi are a prime example of this," he said. "Issues around homophobia, terrorism and human rights have the potential to overshadow what should be a great sporting spectacle." Although he added that the sporting achievements were generally what stuck in people's memories and that brands were associating themselves with an event, not a country.

Advertising Age highlighted a couple of creative responses to Russia's anti-gay laws. Craft brewer BrewDog produced a beer called "Hello, My Name is Vladimir", which it promoted with the hashtag #NotForGays. And the Canadian Institute of Diversity and Inclusion ran an ad showing the sport of luge, suggesting that it, just like the Winter Olympics themselves, had always been a little bit gay.

Data sourced from Advertising Age, The Drum, New York Daily News, Marketing Week; additional content by Warc staff
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