Communication support of Coca-Cola as partner of Olympic Torch Relay Sochi-2014
Coca-Cola is the oldest commercial partner of the international Olympic movement: it’s been a sponsor since 1928 and it’s been involved in the Olympic torch relay since 1992.
The Winter Olympic Games 2014 in Sochi were the ninth where Coca-Cola, which started its operations in Russia as a result of the 1980 Games in Moscow, was to be a relay partner. However, in the run-up to the Games in Russia its organisers and sponsors faced a huge communications challenge: overcoming the negative attitude of the Russian people towards the Games. Many considered them waste of money and effort, even those who were more positive towards the Games doubted they would be able to attend Olympic events.
Against this backdrop, the Games organisers defined the most important role of the Olympic torch relay in Russia as creating excitement and anticipation in the run up to the Olympics and igniting national pride in the host nation. For high-profile sponsor Coca-Cola, it was also important that its Russian consumers felt really involved in and positive about the Games.
Coca-Cola asked R.I.M. Porter Novelli to support its involvement in the torch relay with a communications campaign that would promote Olympic values, shift the Russian people’s attitude towards the Games, and get them to take part in Olympic torch relay events. The team also needed to reinforce Coca-Cola’s positioning as a socially responsible company that inspires people to choose healthy and active lifestyles.
The main players of the relay would be 14,000 torchbearers: famous sportsmen, influencers from the world of culture and art, politicians, journalists, representatives of all layers of Russian society, selected by Games organisers. As relay partner, Coca-Cola had the chance to independently choose 2,014 torchbearers for the relay.
We decided to entrust the Olympic torch to ordinary Russians who wanted to become part of Olympic history. The strategy was to engage the Russian people in the Olympic Games and the relay by getting the highest number of people possible involved in the process of selecting 2,014 torchbearers from across the whole country, and their subsequent participation in the relay.
The campaign of selecting Coca-Cola torchbearers was to become an all-Russia competition of selecting “local heroes” who had changed the life of people around them for the better, and were inspiring, worthy representatives of their region.
On 2 August 2012, the closing day of the London 2012 Olympics, we organised a flash mob of more than 500 people in the central square of Sochi. This was the first time that the handing over of the Olympics from the Summer Games to the Winter Games had been marked. We posted a video of the flash mob on YouTube.
A year before the arrival of the Olympic flame in Russia, the relay route was announced in Moscow. It would be the flame’s longest and most ambitious in the history of the Games: the 14,000 torchbearers would cover 65,000 km in 123 days, taking in 2,900 cities and villages in 83 regions of Russia.
To grant every Russian a chance to bear the Olympic flame, we launched an all-Russia contest for the selection of Coca-Cola’s relay participants. Online applications were invited from anyone over 14 who could describe how they had changed the lives of people around them for the better, and who pursued a healthy and active lifestyle. Applicants could attach photos and videos, and the lucky 2,014 winners were selected by online voting and an expert jury made up of well-known sportspeople, actors and musicians from across Russia. The torchbearers selection campaign ran from 15 January to 17 March 2013.
To support the torchbearers competition, we put on an exhibition in Moscow featuring artifacts from Olympic flame relays from the 1980 Games in Moscow to London 2012, including torches, torchbearer uniforms, photos, collectors’ stamps and coins, as well as being able to take a photo of themselves with the newly-designed torch for Sochi 2014. We also designed a 3D PC card which used augmented reality to show all 65,000 km of the relay route.
The exhibition then toured 13 other Russian cities so as many people as possible could touch the symbol of the Olympic Games and learn more about how to become a
Coca-Cola relay participant. We organised a press conference in each city which was followed by an ice show and masterclasses with figure skating stars.
In September 2013, we organised a press tour to Olympia in Greece for the Olympic flame lighting ceremony, including a press conference with Sochi 2014 ambassador, ice hockey champ Alexander Ovechkin, who became the first torchbearer of the relay.
In October 2014, the Olympic flame arrived in Moscow, and the next day the most ambitious relay in Olympic history started. We ensured there was a media service in 129 cities along the relay route, and accompanied torchbearers at all stages, including logistics and media interviews with Coca-Cola torchbearers before and after their participation in the relay. We also supported the involvement of Coca-Cola torchbearers in 78 city events after the relay stages, preparing torchbearers to speak from the stage, profiling them in the media and setting up interviews and photo ops.
On 7 February 2014, the flame’s 123-day, 65,000 km odyssey culminated in the arrival of the Olympic flame at Sochi on the eve of the Opening Ceremony to mark the start of the XXII Olympic Winter Games.
Coca-Cola’s competition to become an Olympic torchbearer aroused unprecedented interest in Russia. Despite overwhelmingly negative public opinion before the campaign, we succeeded in engaging and exciting the Russian people. In total around 65,000 people applied for the chance to be one of Coca-Cola’s 2,014 torchbearers, and 14 million votes were received from across Russia.
Porter Novelli’s communications campaign led to around 50% more pieces of coverage than expected, with around 3,000 media reports, all containing key company messages and brand references. The total number of media contacts with the target audience exceeded 1.2 billion: almost 1.5 times higher than for the London 2012 relay.
Evaluation after the Games showed that Coca-Cola was one of the most visible of Sochi 2014’s partners, and support for the Olympic Games became the key event in the Russian market for the company and its brands in 2013/2014. After the Games, Coca-Cola reported that its drinks sales in Russia had increased by 6% in Q1 2014.
The Coca-Cola Company’s public affairs and communications director for Russia, Ukraine and Belarus, Anna Kozlovskaya, said: “Coca-Cola worked hand-in-hand with R.I.M. Porter Novelli on the very complex project of the Sochi 2014 Olympic Torch Relay, which required strong logistics, media relations and project management on an unprecedented nationwide scale. We exceeded the set KPIs, enhanced Coca-Cola reputation and indeed touched the hearts of millions of Russian citizens and guests”.