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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

Olympic marketers have scant leeway in Tibet riots

March 21, 2008

By Michele Gershberg and Paul Thomasch

NEW YORK, March 19 (Reuters) - Companies already committed to spending
millions to advertise at the Beijing Olympics would find it hard to pull
their ads if they felt the situation in Tibet was hurting their images.

Advertisers and their agencies say that, at this stage, they are keeping
a close eye on events, but so far the potential gains from participating
in what some describe as China's "coming-out party" as a world power
still outweigh the disadvantages caused by the turmoil.

"Pretty much every corporation is saying: 'We're aware of it, but it's
not our place to dictate policy,'" one agency executive said. "It has
not yet precluded any advertisers from being there."

Media buyers working with such advertisers say they have not seen easy
exit clauses built into their contracts for commercial time on the NBC
network and affiliated channels, which has exclusive U.S. broadcast
rights for the Games.

Full-fledged Olympic sponsors are even more tightly locked into the
ceremonies as part of costly, long-term commercial deals with Games
organizers.
If they concluded that political strife could damage their brands, they
would likely take down their ads, but still write off the cost.

"A lot of the inventory is contracted well in advance so advertisers are
bound to their commitments," said one media buyer who did not want to be
identified due to sensitive client relationships. "It's not like they
could make a decision to pull out. There would need to be discussions."

Broadcasters have in the past pulled ads when bad news affected a
specific industry, such as taking an airline commercial off a broadcast
about plane crashes. But it will be hard for any marketer to make the
same argument over a standoff between Tibetan activists and China, the
media buyer said.

Another agency executive said he had not heard of any guarantees to back
out in the event of political unrest, with nearly 80 percent of NBC's
commercial time sold.

At the same time, a broadcaster such as NBC may be flexible in
individual cases, media buyers said. But with nearly $1 billion in
anticipated ad revenue from the Games on the line, media buyers would
not expect it to approve a mass exodus.

"There is usually nothing built in that says, if there is another
Tiananmen Square, we can be out," said Gary Carr, director of national
broadcast at privately-held media buyer TargetCast. "I know we tried
really hard in 2004 when we were concerned about security issues (in
Athens)."

NBC officials were not available to comment. The company is majority
owned by General Electric Co, also an Olympic sponsor, with a stake held
by France's Vivendi.

CLOSE WATCH

Ad executives say any decisions to dial back campaigns would be taken
closer to the start of the Games in August and would depend on whether
the conflict deepened.

Beijing officials say at least 16 people have died in the unrest that
culminated last Friday in a riot in the capital of Tibet, Lhasa.
Representatives of the exiled leader of Tibetan Buddhists, the Dalai
Lama, say as many as 99 people were killed when Chinese security forces
moved in to quell the protests.

Twelve Games partners have marketing rights to use the Olympic logo
globally, including McDonald's Corp, Coca Cola Co and Visa Inc.

The Beijing Olympics and the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy, have
already brought in about $4.4 billion in rights and sponsorship deals.
Contracts for the top partners program span at least four years to
include both editions of the Games.

Several major Olympics sponsors stressed their commitment to the Games
this week and to its spirit of international accord.

"The Coca-Cola company joins others in expressing deep concern for the
situation on the ground in Tibet," the company said in a statement.

"While it would be inappropriate for sponsors to comment on the
political situation of individual nations ... we firmly believe that the
Olympics are a force for good," Coca-Cola said.

Samsung Electronics said the Games should not be a focus for political
demonstrations "and we hope that all people attending the Games
recognize the importance of this."

Matsushita Electric Industrial Co Ltd, maker of the Panasonic brand,
stressed its 20-year history with the Olympics and said it would not
comment "on political issues concerning any government."

McDonald's, also a long-standing sponsor, said political issues need to
be resolved by governments and international institutions such as the
United Nations.

"Our role is always to help support athletes and their teams the world
over," spokesman Walt Riker said. (Additional reporting by Kiyoshi
Takenaka in Tokyo and Jon Herskovitz in Seoul; Editing by Andre Grenon)
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