The Summer Olympics are with us again, in what has been a great summer for sports. Besides the normal summer sports highlights, soccer fans have gotten a special second year in a row of the Copa America, not so great if you’re a Messi fan. That happened to land in the same summer as the Euro Cup in which tiny Iceland sent England packing. Iceland, by the way, has a population of a little over 300,000 and their co-coach hasn’t quit his day job as a dentist. England had the highest paid coach in the Euros and has won the World Cup.
But I digress. Now the Summer Olympics are approaching, such a well known brand that the Lanham Act gives it special privileges. This year, they’ll be held in Rio de Janeiro, and though it’s winter in the Southern Hemisphere Brazil is basically ground zero for the Zika virus. A number of athletes have pulled out over Zika concerns. The CDC. though, has only urged pregnant women or those who may become pregnant to stay away. Though it does recommend bug spray.
Enter S.C. Johnson. OFF! has become the first official bug spray of the Olympics this year. On first blush, this seems to be a great idea. The world is understandably concerned about Zika. What better way to make your product the preeminent protector from Zika? All those people who decided to stay home, and those who would have stayed home anyway, will see OFF! used by athletes, judges, spectators, commentators, and the like. It’s safe to say that most of the people traveling to Rio will be basting themselves in OFF! more than they baste their Thanksgiving turkey. Zika has crossed into the U.S. and many of those viewers may run out to buy some OFF! to start basting themselves.
There is, of course, the chance that S.C. Johnson will be lambasted for trying to profit off of people’s fears of a new and horrific virus. Even if they don’t raise prices a la Martin Shkreli, trying to capitalize off of a public crisis is generally frowned upon.
There’s something I would be more concerned about though. What happens when some of those who have gone to watch the Olympics catch Zika? Worse yet, what happens when one, or two, or more high profile athletes or commentators are infected with Zika despite the gallons of free OFF! they were provided? The average high is 77 and the average low is 65 in Rio in January. I would guess that there are a few mosquitos still around, even if it is the driest average month.
My money is on at least a few visitors catching the Zika virus. There are two real variables here though. First, who and how many catch it? This variable will directly influence the second, what is the public and media reaction? If T.V. viewers around the world are connecting OFF! with the Olympics, and possibly seeing high profile personalities lather themselves in its protection, will they conclude that OFF! doesn’t cut it when one of them gets Zika? That may not be the right conclusion. After all, I know I’ve gotten mosquito bites despite wearing an unhealthy amount of bug spray (I’m looking at you, Northern Minnesota). But it does seem to be a conclusion that they are risking, if not inviting. It’s probably better to be seen as just a bug spray brand, than the bug spray brand that won’t protect you from Zika.
On the other hand, by the time it is apparent that someone caught the virus, it will be approaching the end of the summer in the Northern Hemisphere. Perhaps consumers up here will forget by the time next bug spray season rolls around. Or maybe a cure or vaccine will be found that drops Zika from the public mind.
Or perhaps, hopefully, no Zika transmission is associated with the Olympics. In that case, OFF! may be recognized as THE bug spray to protect from Zika and other mosquito born viruses. I’m sure the folks over at S.C. Johnson weighed even more possibilities, and did not come lightly to the conclusion that this is right for the brand. I’ve just been spit balling here, but it seems there is a decent risk involved.
So which will it be? OFF! the brand that stops Zika in its tracks? Or, OFF! the brand that leaves you vulnerable to horrible mosquito born viruses?