The Winter Olympics in South Korea have provided a ray of sunshine in a dark week that has been overshadowed by yet another horrific high-school mass firearms incident, the latest of several school shootings of a year that is not yet two months’ old.
Let’s dispense for the moment with debates about how it is possible for a troubled 19-year-old youth to legally purchase a semi-automatic weapon that fires dozens of rounds per minute but cannot legally buy an alcoholic drink or a Tide Pod until he is 21.
Rather, let’s concentrate on the joy and pure talent and exuberance of youth on display in PyeongChang, epitomized by 17-year-old Californian snowboarder Chloe Kim, who won the halfpipe gold medal on Monday night.
As the child of Korean parents - her father is Kim Jong Jin - she also contributes much to the narrative about diversity and inclusiveness in modern America and those who aspire to live the American dream, a message increasingly under challenge in the current political and cultural climate.
"I’m so proud to be a Korean-American," she continued in the CNBC interview. "Watching my family work so hard has been so inspirational. I really got their work ethic and always want to do the best I can."
Kim’s effervescence, confidence and charm make her a particularly effective brand ambassador, and she already has deals in place with brands including Toyota, Nike, and Mondelez.
She even found time to tweet mid-competition, explaining how "hangry" she was because she hadn’t finished her breakfast sandwich on the morning of the competition. Churro manufacturers were naturally delighted when she confessed to eating two of them after the event.
Suffice to say, this is one young woman who will not be short of further commercial offers, but like all effective influencers, she has a refreshing attitude to endorsements.
"I love working with sponsors," she told CNBC. "It’s so much more than just a contract. I genuinely only want to work with people I agree with on certain things. I just need to make sure we’re all on the same page and all on board."
Procter & Gamble is on the ground in South Korea in force, activating on its long-running Thank You Mom campaign with an extension called Love Over Bias speaking to gender issues, a conversation it also activated at Davos in January.
Ketchum’s new global CEO Barri Rafferty guested on The PR Week podcast this week and explained that her firm has 10 people on the ground in PyeongChang doing client activations, in addition to others who are part of the combined MMK (Marina Maher Communications and Ketchum) Omnicom team supporting P&G in Korea.
Heineken brand Red Stripe also joined the Olympic party in opportunistic fashion when it offered to help the Jamaican bobsledders after the team’s coach quit and threatened to take her sled and go home. The Jamaican beer brand offered to buy the team a new ride on Thursday, an offer that was graciously accepted.
The start of the week was dominated by the sight of North and South Korean athletes parading together at the opening ceremony, the super-enthusiastic North Korean cheerleaders, and the two sibling nations competing in a joint team at women’s ice hockey.
The sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, Kim Yo-jong, stole the show with a charm offensive that put a human face to the brutal regime her brother oversees, causing some to forget briefly the hell people experience living under the austere dictatorship.
Rafferty noted that Yo-jong came over as engaging and personable and utilized a number of photo opps to build this persona. She pondered what were the Mike Pence-represented U.S. Government’s opportunities and how could it have created a counter-narrative in the "jockeying for position in the big game of politics" taking place around the world at the moment.
"Korea has done a nice job of using the Games, and sports have always been an interesting intermediary in politics," added Rafferty.
Events like the Olympics and the soccer World Cup that is set to be held in Russia this summer bring peoples and countries together in a unique fashion. They set an inspiring, positive, and inclusive example we can only hope the world’s politicians and business leaders will follow in an uncertain and increasingly frightening world.
I have so much faith in the future when I see inspirational young people acting so maturely and intelligently, whether it is an Olympian such as Chloe Kim or the young students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School trying to cope with the horror they experienced this week and the loss of their friends, teachers, and mentors.