Bold Moves and Backlash

Nike’s marketing had a distinctly abrasive edge to it. For example, the brand’s magazine ads blared: “If you’re not here to win, you’re a tourist.” Nike also bought billboards space all over Atlanta to announce: “You don’t win silver, you lose gold.”
To some members of the public, such talk ran contrary to the spirit of good sportsmanship.
“Nike took a lot of flack for that campaign,” Andrews said. “It wasn’t in the spirit of the games. There’s a lot of consumer love for the Olympics and the athletes, and that [marketing] just crossed the line for a lot of people.”
Those people included many of the athletes and, of course, the USOC itself. Michael Payne was the marketing coordinator for the Olympics that year. As Payne recounts in his 2012 book Olympic Turnaround: “Athletes, who had devoted their life [sic] to training and just getting to the Olympics, were angry at being positioned as ‘failures.’ … We weren’t going to sit back and let Nike’s ambush marketing undermine and trash the very spirit and essence of the Olympic ideal.”
By Payne’s account, the USOC was prepared to round up a bunch of silver medalists to speak out against Nike publicly, and drew the brand into a closed-door meeting that nearly came to physical blows. Nike softened its tactics, Payne suggests, after realizing that its “campaign was backfiring” and by the time the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney came around, the brand “showed it was an Olympic convert” by becoming an official sponsor.
According to Po Yi, an advertising attorney with the New York firm of Venable LLP, “Nike realized that, after the IOC tightened the rules, they could no longer do ambush marketing.”

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