The recent mass-rape firestorm is only the latest of a long list of bad news stories to come out of this year’s Olympic city. It highlights the way that social media can originate the story – the rapists posted a video online – and cause it to be picked up by global mainstream media … whose stories in turn are then reported on social platforms.
Every Olympics puts the spotlight on the host city. For London it was security. For Beijing it was (lack of) democracy. In Rio, like Athens, the focus has been on the national cost burden, infrastructure preparedness and local politics. And at all them doping has been an issue. This time it’s worse because, 16 years on, the ongoing doping scandal has taken on a new dimension with retesting of samples from the Beijing and London Games. About 10% of London 2012’s retests showed cheating and bans on contestants will now follow.
Do these regular doping scandals take the shine off the Olympic rings? Not enough to put the world’s biggest brands off connecting with the world’s biggest sporting event. These brands want the positive associations and marketing platform which high performance sports can bring. They’ll assume that, as usual, the media froth will die down once the Games begin.
But for brands connected with the Rio Olympics 2016 there are some additional and particularly high profile reputational risks.
Health (Zika), hygiene (raw sewage) and personal security (rape, theft and murder rates) are all high profile themes on social media. And, as more and more visitors arrive in Rio – bearing the latest smartphones and tablets with the latest social media platforms – these stories have the potential to drown out the sports.
So what can brands do at this stage? As one trade magazine recently put it: ‘Hope for the best but prepare for the worst’.
As our London 2012 Socialympics report showed, proper planning, positive engagement and active integration were the keys to the best brand performance. This will be true again for Rio 2016. But it’s definitely also time to dust down the issues management manual and brush up on social media skills.