NEW YORK: Sponsorship of the Winter Olympics is proving to be more effective for some brands than others although that success is also likely to bring more headaches for marketers.

McDonald's (32%), Coca-Cola (29%) and Visa (26%) emerged as the three brands that Americans most readily identified as being an official sponsor of the event in a survey by YouGov which polled 1,118 adults.

Pepsi also featured prominently, despite having no association with the event – 22% of respondents thought it too was an official sponsor. And Nike was cited by 21% of respondents, although rather than being an event sponsor it only partners the US team. 

Neither were Red Bull (17%) or Adidas (10%) sponsors but they still achieved recognition ahead of official sponsors such as Procter & Gamble (10%) and Samsung (9%).

Recognition levels were higher, however, among those respondents who said they took an interest in the Winter Olympics. McDonald's (39%), Coca-Cola (37%) and Visa (33%) again topped the list.

Some 27% identified Nike and the same proportion of sports enthusiasts incorrectly said Pepsi was a sponsor. So these two brands have an almost identical association with the event despite the latter not having any sponsorship deals.

In the light of protests urging them to speak out against Russia's anti-gay laws, McDonald's, Coca-Cola and Visa have all issued statements in support of the LGBT community while stopping short of condemning Russian law. But three sponsors of the US Olympic Committee – telecoms firm AT&T, yoghurt brand Chobani and education company DeVry University – have done so, the New York Times reported.

Writing in Forbes, marketing consultant Avi Dan warned that marketers needed to become public issues managers. "What makes a backlash against the Sochi sponsors so dangerous to the reputation of the sponsoring companies is that social media controversy tends to be amplified into established media," he said. That gave it an extended life that could erode the companies' image for some time afterwards.

YouGov's survey also indicated that 11% of Americans would not be watching the Games because of political events and/or polices in Russia. But 67% plan to watch at least a little with 20% expecting to watch a lot, with figure skating (55%), ski jumping (47%) and speed skating (41%) among the most popular events.

Data sourced from PR Newswire, New York Times; additional content by Warc staff