Empathy and Real Time Marketing at the Olympic Games

Shaun White Facebook announcement_Sochi2014
With the Winter Games over, we can draw plenty of leadership lessons from the role preparation, persistence, and consistency have in creating luck. Athletes make incredible sacrifices to compete at this level, and even after they gain a place in the competition, they are called to make hard decisions on participating.

When prompted by safety concerns, like in the case of Shaun White, walking away from years of hard work cannot be an easy choice because it means losing the chance to win, and potentially a once-in-a-lifetime ticket to competing while the world is watching in the here and now. It is a decision that cannot be made lightly, because the world is also talking — as many of the comments to the news attest.  

White's official statement#:

he told NBC he was pulling out, saying that “the potential risk of injury is a bit too much for me to gamble my other Olympic goals on.”

Moments later, he issued the following statement through the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association: “After much deliberation with my team, I have made the decision to focus solely on trying to bring home the third straight gold medal in halfpipe for Team USA. The difficult decision to forgo slopestyle is not one I take lightly as I know how much effort everyone has put into holding the slopestyle event for the first time in Olympic history, a history I had planned on being part of.”

The role of empathy in decision-making

And in decision accepting.

The direct nature of communication via social networks is also creating more accountability on promises to family, friends, nations, and fans — they are all as far as a message today. And his fans received a statement as well (image from White's Facebook presence).

It is very human to consider the implications of going one way or the other and it requires empathy to both decide what to do, and communicate it on one hand, and to nod in understanding and respond on the other.

While Shaun White used experience to weigh evidence in the decision-making process, the big picture consideration involves emotional data: the story he tells himself about the arc of his career, future prospects, and being okay with withdrawing.

@MaxParrot_responding to White fans

Some fans felt it was a let down. By and large, because of the direct link to the athlete, most supported his decision and called out a comment by fellow athlete @MaxParrot who was not at the games and had shard a taunting tweet he later deleted.


Empathy is created and felt through communication, a form of human contact.

Do people expect brands to be super-human?

Yes and no.

Brands sharing their true voice aligned with core promises, responding to customers and the public through social in real time, continued to develop relationships based on a mutually developed culture.

A good example of how brands were competing for gold at the Olympics. It is brand dissonance with core product/service and making good on promises that creates difficulty.

While it was a concern at first, the messages on diversity and inclusion did not impact consideration# with its controversial nature for most brands. To note, most of the controversy for Coca-Cola was U.S.-driven. 

Doe to circumstances outside its control it was Chobani that exhibited the most human behavior and gained the most.

when Russian officials wouldn't let its shipment of Greek yogurt into the Olympic village, citing paperwork problems. Chobani responded by donating 5,000 yogurt cups to food banks in the U.S.

Chobani did not miss a beat, and let everyone know about its decision. American athletes who were waiting for their yogurt#, or their proxies, were also featured in "day in the life" natural goodness and nutrition ads on Hulu. 

We'll take a look at how the main sposors fared and areas of opportunity missed at the PM Digital blog with a follow up visual.



Valeria is an experienced listener. She designs service and product experiences to help businesses rediscover the value of promises and its effects on relationships and culture. She is also frequent speaker at conferences and companies on a variety of topics. Book her to speak here.