Overblown advertising cheapens the Olympic experience

Like thousands of others in New West, I made my way to Queen’s Park for the Torch Relay festivities on Tuesday. Lukewarm to the Olympics thus far, I thought that I might catch the spirit once in the presence of the Flame and thousands of others cheering for Canada and the Games. I was proud of the turnout in New West, but I came away somewhat more turned off the Olympics after having seen the flame go past.

The Torch handoff aboard the Paddlewheeler. Photo: Graham Ballantyne
The good: Torch handoff aboard the Paddlewheeler. The bad: tacky sloganeering by Olympic sponsors. Photo: Graham Ballantyne

Before the flame came truck after truck of logo-emblazoned vehicles and legions of paid street teams chanting advertising slogans and handing out branded trash. It cheapened the Olympics for me, and I wish I hadn’t come out to see it.

I am not against corporate sponsorship of the Olympic Games. I understand that it is necessary to offset the cost to taxpayers – and done right, could even enhance the experience. But too much focus on the sponsors is to the detriment of the sport.

I am a lover of parades and public festivals of all kinds. I love the feeling of being out in the fresh air, surrounded by your neighbours and together enjoying the creative expression of our community. The corporate sponsors’ participation is usually only a small part of the fun. This restraint is what keeps the event enjoyable. It’s not an intrinsic problem with the logos, but because advertising-driven participation is too often void of creativity and joy. Paying a bunch of twinkies to dance on a truck covered in your logo detracts from the hard work and passion that makes these kinds of events so wonderful.

I held off posting about my feelings about the event because I thought perhaps I was the lone Negative Nancy out there who was this disturbed by the overt sloganeering by sponsors like Coke and RBC. This morning, I read Chris Bryan’s editorial in the Newsleader, which expresses the same sentiment:

Arriving at this gorgeous park of ours for the event, I was prepared to feel that pride that comes out at so many of this city’s events—after all, we do “community” so well.

And then there I was, among this crowd of people, cheering “YES!” to answer a question of, not am I excited” or “proud.” Not even “honoured.”


Then I realized Coke’s slogan is “Open Happiness.”

And then a video popped on the big screen with the bouncing Coke logo, imploring us to sing along: “The sun will come back tomorrow/There’s a message in the bottle…”

And later, we were treated to the “He shoots, he scores” ad from Coke that I confess actually gives me the shivers (in a good way). A little later, the MC said “Are you ready to create a better Canada?” which is apparently part of RBC’s program to encourage people to do something for a better country. Great idea. But then he went on to shout “Let’s do it with RBC! Put up those RBC tambourines and shake them around!”

And later: “RBC! That’s us!”

It felt to me that some of the big-name Olympic sponsors, Coke and RBC in particular, are looking at the Games sponsorship as just another ad opportunity, like buying space at the Superbowl. But to me, the Olympics ought to remain true to the ideal of humans striving to achieve their best in sport and in spirit. Corporations who see their sponsorship as a way of upholding those ideals are welcome. Advertising that distracts from the core experience is not.

8 Replies to “Overblown advertising cheapens the Olympic experience”

  1. I loved the torch relay in Queensborough! The sponsorships totally did not turn me off of anything and the Olympic spirit was in full force in QB! 😀

  2. I agree, the corporate branding and heavy handedness over protecting these sponsors is a little over the top. Are these sponsors that insecure in their brand they need so much protection and promotion? Because that’s how it comes off.

    What happened to the time when corporations would step up and help make events like this a reality because it was the “right thing to do” and part of being a good corporate citizen? Why does pitching in have to come with the price of emblazoning your logo on every surface available? We have thousands of volunteers pitching in not for glory (and certainly not to be part of high fashion, smurfs, heh), but because they want to create an event they can be proud of, showing off their country and city to the world.

    But I guess that’s part of the problem, most of these sponsors aren’t from British Columbia, let alone even Canadian so there isn’t any sense of pride. These aren’t the Vancouver or Canada games anymore. Hell, do we even have any actual Canadian companies left anymore with pockets deep enough to outbid these multi-nationals?

    Sad, I guess books like The Corporation are right, our current economic model turns all corporations in to sociopaths.

  3. To “Negative Nancy”

    Wow! What a typical response. I was handing out “branded trash” and masses were taking it as a souvenier and very excited for it???
    I have lived in New West for thirty years and have never, ever seen such a high spirited response to such a great event. There were kids by the thousands pumped with excitement as a result of RBC and Coke. Corporate sponsorships at any level are necessary to pay the toll. New Westminster had an opportunity to showcase itself and they did it well, not so much by the event in Queens Park, but the Massey and the other events which were more than successful, and were not supported by the City. Kudo’s to “Spirit 2010” and the many volunteers who actually showcased the City.

    Branding a product, when you contribute Millions of dollars, is necessary to protect their investment….. Can you see “the Pop Shop” paying nothing and setting up all over the City. There are givers who understand this concept.. then there are takers who do nothing but complain and expect handouts… without a clue where it comes from.

    New Westminster needs more RCB’s and Coke sponsorships before it goes the way of all the “Negative Nancies” who keep many citizens whining and walking around with their heads hung low. Wake up New West we need opportunities like this for a progressive future.
    One thing I did notice at all these great celebrations was the absence of the socialist who have boycotted the games from day one. Oh well I guess they were downtown Vancouver…. protesting. Protesting the cost of the games at the same time protesting the billions paid by sponsors to offset costs to Taxpayers. Seems we need some clarification on reality. GO CANADA GO!!!!!GO CANADA GO!

  4. I didn't attend the Queen's Park hoopla but heard from people who did that the hype and commercialism was self-serving and distasteful. How unfortunate.

    I did attend the Spirit of 2010 event at the Royal City Centre and can happily attest to the fact that the hype was appropriately focused on the spirit of the Olympics and the honour of hosting the world. People dressed in the costumes of their country, got their pictures taken with a real Olympic torch, and the Olympic mascots made an appearance! It was a good turnout and kids loved it – well done folks!

    But the Games! Really! I watched the opening ceremony on tv – outstanding! And when it was over, I stepped outside of the house to investigate the loud booms I could hear from across the Fraser and was thoroughly "wow-ed" by the incredible fireworks display put on by the city of Surrey! What a treat!

    And now, … Oh CANADA!!! Olympic Gold on home-soil!

    How truly very fitting: think about it,

    … the rush of critical ups and downs, Moguls!

    Bilodeau has hearts a-glow all across this great nation!

    Clearly, GOLD is a state of mind and heart!

    Merci Alexandre and Frédéric!!


    What a story!

  5. I’ve been working at the Pacific Coliseum throughout the Games, and I’ve been struck by how little branding there has been at the venue. Coke and Visa are the prominent sponsors in the venues, with fancy Coke coolers and you’re only able to buy stuff with your Visa. Other than that, the building is stripped bare of the usual billboards, there are a small selection of souvenirs available, food, and that’s about it. Compared to the experience of a Canucks game, or any other regular sporting event with the rink boards and non-stop big screen commercials; the Olympic event experience is startlingly uncommercial. I guess they had to get all the commercial messaging in with the Torch Relay, because once you’re at the event, nada.

    Tonight I was on the TV crew that watched Marianne St-Gelais win a Silver Medal in Short Track Speed Skating. She was so happy when she made the finals, and then to win the Silver Medal, it was incredible. She was smiling and crying and waving the flag draped over her head as the crowd was swept up in the moment. As much as we are cynical about the commercial interests inherent in sports everywhere, that kind of communal experience, whether it’s seeing the Olympic torch or watching a young woman’s dreams come true is what keeps us coming back.

  6. What happened to Negative Nancy's post that Positive Johny is talking about ?????

    I don't understand, it's like a puzzle with missing pieces !

    I think in retrospect we are getting a clear picture of what all this branding didn't pay for and what we will be for years to come.

    And who can forget the Olympic display surrounded by wire fencing to keep the masses out, while the VIP's where allowed photo op's inside.


    And the whole running the torch marathon is based on a refienstahl (sic) nazi propaganda film, they even had the audacity to show clips of it to participant runners as a pep film.


  7. Norman: "Positive John" dubbed me "Negative Nancy" because he didn't like the criticism. No missing pieces!

  8. Well I hope "Positive Johny" is keeping up with the Olympic size tally of debt and contract disputes.

    The idea of the Olympics is great, but the corporate greed, and pocket stuffing that went on is atrocious and taints the 2 week event.


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