#CheersToSochi, a case study

“Your logos and marketing will appear alongside every event, indelibly linking your brand to what happens in Sochi.”
Chad Griffin,
Human Rights Campaign to Olympic sponsors

  • Click for #CheersToSochi
  • Click for #CheersToSochi
  • Click for #CheersToSochi
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“#CheersToSochi was inspired.”
Minky Worden,
Human Rights Watch

Content created by Memeographs studios lead in a viral pushback campaign pressuring Sochi 2014 corporate sponsors to speak out on human rights abuses in Russia. Driven by principles of culture-jamming, riffs were made on iconic imagery and brand catchphrases. #CheersToSochi built its own iconic branding around the image of a young Russian man arrested in St. Petersburg in 2012, protesting the passage of this law. Initially the hashtag #CheersToSochi was hijacked from McDonald’s social media campaign, but eventually came to be attached Coca-Cola, Visa, Dow and all the silent sponsors.

By Games’ start Mashable was warning, “sponsors such as Visa and McDonald’s also may consider logging time to answer their critics, who have hijacked the sponsors’ Olympics-themed Twitter hashtags to protest Russia’s anti-gay crackdown.” Eventually press could not ignore the outcry and had all but declared the sponsor’s social media efforts a failure.

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Activists Try to Hijack Promotions by Sponsors of Sochi Olympics

Over the past week, McDonald’s, Coca-Cola and other big advertisers are having to fend off gay rights activists who have hijacked their Olympic promotions on social media. The tug of war involving McDonald’s began Jan. 21 when the company introduced on its Twitter feed a hashtag, #CheersToSochi, in a post that read: “We’re kicking off a way to send your well wishes to any Olympian today. Are you ready to send your #CheersToSochi?”

Soon after, activists who have been protesting a federal law in Russia against “homosexual propaganda,” which is widely considered antigay, filled Twitter with posts that used the hashtag for their own purposes. Such appropriations are known as “hashtag hijacking…”

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“For Coke And McDonald’s, Ignoring The Power Of Social Media To Disrupt Means No Medals In Sochi”

First to get hit by the backlash were the Golden Arches. Soon after McDonald’s launched a twitter feed with the hashtag #CheersSochi, which was intended to send messages to the athletes, activists flooded it with tweets that used the hashtag to challenge the fast feeder’s sponsorship of the games. McDonald’s relented eventually and withdrew this hashtag altogether.

Coca-Cola was next hit with a re-edited version of the famous 1971 commercial for Coca-Cola in which singers on a hilltop want “to buy the world a Coke” to include scenes of protesters in Russia being attacked for demonstrating against the law.”

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Fingers Crossed, Marketers Count on Olympic Gold:

Scott Wooledge, a leader in the appropriation of the #CheersToSochi hashtag introduced a parody site, cheerstosochi.org, attacking the major sponsors because, its home page declares, “they’ve all betrayed the ideals in Olympic charter.”