When the Olympic cauldron is lit to mark the start of the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018, not only will it begin the showcase of the world’s greatest athletes as they slalom, soar and spin on a global stage. It also will mark an important milestone in The Coca-Cola Company’s continued support of the Olympic movement.
Since 1928, when an enterprising bottler had a thousand cases of Coca-Cola shipped to Amsterdam to sell at the Olympics, Coca-Cola has been a part of the Games. Since then, the ccompany has become the longest continuous partner of the Olympics, with a consistent presence at the Games since then: a 90-year association that continues to thrive.
“As the Games begin and mark this monumental partnership between Coca-Cola and the Olympics, we continue to support the core values of the Olympic Movement – excellence, friendship and respect – and we look forward to maintaining our role in helping to make the Olympics a memorable experience for athletes, fans and communities all around the world,” said Rodolfo Echeverria, vice president of global creative, The Coca-Cola Company.
Coca-Cola has been affiliated with a host of decorated Olympians over the years. For the PyeongChang Games, Coca-Cola has partnered with four world-class U.S. competitors, including freestyle skier Mac Bohonnon; figure skater Nathan Chen; bobsledder Elana Meyers Taylor; and Paralympic snowboarder Amy Purdy. In addition, ice dancers Alex and Maia Shibutani, figure and speed skater JR Celski will represent Minute Maid and Core Power.
“Coca-Cola has respect for the Olympic rings, Olympic and Paralympic athletes and respect for the Olympic sports, and in return, athletes respect Coca-Cola,” said Summer Sanders, a two-time gold medalist swimmer at the Barcelona 1992 Olympics. “I definitely feel like I am part of The Coca-Cola family.”
A History of Partnership
Over the years, Coca-Cola has sought to strengthen its commitment to the Olympics, and its role as a Worldwide Partner. In addition, Coca-Cola sponsors the Olympic Torch Relay and is a partner of all 204 National Olympic Committees and their teams.
Since 1928, Coca-Cola has developed a strong tradition of creating programs to bring the spirit of the Games to consumers in Olympic host cities and around the world, including some unique events.
In 1952, Coca‑Cola bottlers provided spectators at the Winter Games in Oslo with their first look at a helicopter. The aircraft was first used in a fundraising effort for Norwegian athletes and then to direct traffic during the final day of the Winter Games. During the Rome 1960 Olympic Games, Italian bottlers of Coca‑Cola presented athletes and spectators with an original record of the favorite song of the day: “Arrivederci Roma.”
The Calgary 1988 Olympic Winter Games saw the debut of the first Coca‑Cola Official Olympic Pin Trading Center, taking advantage of the wild popularity of pin trading in the Los Angeles 1984 Olympic Games. It quickly became another Olympic tradition and the Games’ No. 1 spectator sport.
For the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, Coca-Cola created an official "must-see" hangout for teens in downtown Rio where they could experience and engage with the Olympic Games on their terms. Located in the heart of the city, the spot gave fans the chance to experience the event in a number of ways, from innovative tech activities to headline events with their idols.
“Coca-Cola has a commitment to the Olympic Games and the Olympic movement, and they go well together because the Games represent optimism, hope, aspiration and all the things in human nature that we want to strive for,” says Coca-Cola archivist Ted Ryan. “Coca-Cola offers a refreshing moment in which to take a break, pause and enjoy life – something that makes the little moments of pleasure go down easier.”
Supporting Olympic Dreams
Coca-Cola takes its support of the Olympic movement seriously, and that extends to the athletes who represent the company, as well. Coca-Cola has partnered with 90 U.S. athletes participating in the upcoming Games, and the process is much more complex than just identifying potential gold medal winners.
The Olympic Marketing team at Coca-Cola monitors approximately 200 athletes and whittles them down using a variety of factors, including discussions with NBC, United States Olympic Committee (USOC), Olympic legends, coaches, media members, agents and an in-house Olympic questionnaire that helps determine the correct brand fit within the Company’s portfolio of products.
“We want our partnership to be genuine, real and authentic,” said Dina Gerson, director, Olympic marketing, Coca-Cola North America. “It looks a lot easier than it is. There’s a method to the madness, however. There’s art, science and specific information we have to magically pull it together.”
This year’s “4-Pack” of athletes took part in a photo shoot in Park City that was used for in-store POS to help bring the creative aspects of the campaign to life, a wide-ranging plan that uses packaging, digital media and TV commercials.
For Gerson, bringing athletes and Coca-Cola together is a labor of love that pays off when the athletes officially join the family. “It is the most exciting part of my job,” she said. “It’s very special and humbling to tell them they are part of our family. There are happy tears and lots of celebrating. We are continually communicating with them and doing what we can to make them feel special. It’s a huge honor for us to bring them into our family and we don’t take them for granted.”
Sanders, who has been a good friend of the Coca-Cola family since Atlanta 1996, said the reason why Olympic athletes are drawn to Coca-Cola is that they are treated as more than just marketing opportunities.
“There’s value on both sides,” the swimmer said. “They value us as Olympians but they really do know us as human beings. Very early on, even when the Olympics was just a dream, I was very aware of the fact that the Olympics are amazing, but also that athletes need the support of companies like Coca-Cola, Later, my eyes opened up to how big of an impact Coca-Cola has on the Games and in supporting the journey of athletes. And once you’re part of the family, it’s not just on the surface, it’s ‘How can we help you?’ I think that’s unique. It’s been two decades of friendship and family.”