Brands Stand up for Their Fans: Marketing Lessons From Sochi 2014

Two weeks ago today, Google marked the opening of the Sochi Winter Olympics by making its global homepage Doodle a rainbow flag for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality.

Two weeks ago today, Google marked the opening of the Sochi Winter Olympics by making its global homepage Doodle a rainbow flag for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality.

Beneath the Doodle, Google included a link to the Olympic Charter, along with an excerpt: "The practice of sport is a human right. Every individual must have the possibility of practising sport, without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play."

Google wasn't the only brand to make this kind of public statement. AT&T, the US' second-largest wireless carrier, also spoke out in a blog earlier that week in support of the LGBT community, saying Russia's laws were 'harmful to a diverse society'. And Channel 4 - which championed last year's Paralympics, delivering a real shift in the nation's attitudes to disability - launched a light-hearted 'Gay Mountain' advert across its four channels, as well as temporarily changing its own logo to reflect the rainbow flag.

Businesses and brands have always tried to align themselves with events, whether it be Valentine's Day or Wimbledon - unashamedly and all-too-often expecting commercial benefits. When done well, brands can provide a small contribution to the overall shared experience - Christmas and Superbowl advertising being notable examples. People have come to expect it, however, and doing the expected rarely does much to excite or inspire them.

What was fascinating about Google, AT&T and Channel 4's statements was the way these brands, which have a strong platform and are already in the public eye, wanted to stand up for their fan communities - they wanted people to know that they cared and were fighting their corner.

They didn't need to take this risk or spend the time and money - but this stand has arguably shifted people's perception, making them stand out as better brands. Having a backbone and showing some moral fibre is something not traditionally associated with brands and marketing.

In terms of sheer budget alone, brands have the power to create real behavioural and attitudinal change - socially, culturally and ethically; and Sochi 2014 has served to highlight which brands are ready to make a stand for what their fans believe in.

As marketers, we have a responsibility not just to earn people's trust but not to betray it - by delivering on their individual and collective values, and by operating for their own good as well as ours.

Good brands stand for something; better brands stand for someone. And smart brands know that they need to make a contribution to people's lives to be noticed and respected.

Traditionally, brand power was measured and defined according to three key pillars: pride, trust and belonging.

Google, Channel 4 and AT&T made these three pillars the focus of their brand communications last week: demonstrating pride in the values they stand for; strengthening people's trust by publicly upholding those values; and delivering a sense of belonging for their customers by creating messages which would resonate collectively.

It's heartwarming to see brands pull together to challenge Russia's anti-gay laws in the lead-up to Sochi. It shows a well-thought-out, flawlessly executed use of brand power to try and make the world a better place; simultaneously building people's sense of trust, pride and belonging.

It will be interesting to see what these statements contribute in terms of long-standing customer loyalty and positive sentiment. My guess is they will pay dividends.

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