by Darcy Cosper

You didn't have to wait for the opening ceremonies of the 1996 Summer Games to witness the preliminaries for the most breathtaking Olympic event of them all—Extreme Corporate Sponsorship.

The participants began their warm-ups over a year ago with the Profligate Cash Toss, in which corporations fed between ten and forty million dollars into the Olympic maw for the privilege of using the almighty Olympic logo and associating themselves with the Games. One can only imagine the thrill of progress the sponsors must have felt—they paid up to ten times more than their predecessors did for the 1984 Games (the laurels went to NBC; the network hoisted over $456 million for broadcast rights).

The victors, who included old favorites like Coca-Cola as well as spunky newcomers like Borg-Warner Security (official bouncers of the 1996 Games), set off on the Synchronized Public Seduction course, in which sponsors woo people into believing that they are not simply showing their Olympic spirit but actually taking part in the Games when they use their Visa card or capture their memories with Kodak or slip into something Hanes.

After successfully navigating this gauntlet of extensive ad campaigns, red-hot promotional contests, employee incentive programs, and merchandising galore, we entered the home stretch of the Big Profits Through Mind Numbing Over-Exposure Marathon. Through the flag-waving, the super-billboards, and the Olympic Village souvenir stands, it was difficult to see who was in the lead.

The definitive event, however, was an obscure display sport known as Ideological Acrobatics. If the nations of consumers hadn't been so busy queuing up for their Olympic Happy Meals, they might have realized that they were being treated to an incredible demonstration of virtuoso double-talk. In this arena, sponsors attempted to augment their images with the heroic attributes that the Olympics ostensibly represent—honor, purity, individualism—while simultaneously transforming the Games into what one writer lauded as "the greatest event in marketing history," thereby destroying any semblance of integrity the Olympic Movement may have had to begin with.

It gives the expression "going for the gold" a whole new meaning.   </end>

Also: Catching an illicit ride on the Olympic marketing wave

DARCY COSPER is a freelance writer and researcher. She lives in Manhattan.
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