Defensive Strategy

Russia’s Olympic Branding Problem

13 Aug 2013  

Russian officials are creating an Olympics branding disaster.

With the Sochi Winter Olympics just months away, Russia is taking a very public stand against gay rights.

The country recently passed legislation banning talk of gay rights and public demonstrations such as parades and gatherings.

Today there are reports a senior Russian sports official is associating homosexuality with Nazis. Alexey Sorokin, Russia’s World Cup chief, defended Russia’s legislation in a recent interview. He explained his position, noting “The Olympics and World Cup are not a stage for various views….not for Nazis, not for any other ways of life.”

You can read more about it here:,0,5782778.story

It all puts Russia in a very awkward position. The country really can’t enforce the anti-gay legislation in Sochi; it runs counter to the spirit of the Olympics, as the head of the IOC recently noted.

The most likely result is that athletes will celebrate gay rights at the Sochi Olympics. I suspect many of them will march into the opening ceremonies with rainbow attire, deliberately flaunting Russia’s legislation. The international press will focus on any sign of hostility toward gays.

The Sochi Olympics might become a global embarrassment for Russia.

More important, Russia’s brand may develop an association with anti-gay views. This will polarize how people view the country. It is not a smart move; you don’t want your country associated with discrimination.

As U.S. restaurant chain Chick-fil-A recently learned, wading into difficult social debates is not a smart branding move.

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After spending July in northern Michigan and Colorado I am back in Evanston. This week I’m teaching international executive MBA students. There are students from all around the world; the cultural interaction is fascinating. It highlights how running a global enterprise is a huge management challenge.

3 Responses

  1. tyinvexi says:

    Hey really like your site! Not sure how much coverage you’re doing on the Olympics, but I figured our sites were relevant enough to consider exchanging links. If you’re interested, stop by and check out my 2014 Olympic Guide blog. Nice work, hope to hear back from you soon 🙂

  2. davetuchler says:

    Agree that this puts Russia in an interesting and very visible position. Whether or not this is a negative (from a Russian perspective) depends on whether they are seeking the same sort of ‘good world citizen’ brand that the US is. Considering Putin’s habit of sticking his thumb in the eye of the US, EU and UN (e.g. Snowden, support of Syria, etc) this very provocative anti-gay stance might be actually exactly the sort of authoritarian brand the Kremlin is seeking to cultivate.

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