As the crisis gets worse in Ukraine and yet more lives are lost to this needless war the rest of the world continues to take swift and decisive action – without putting troops on the ground – in an attempt to stop the Russian invasion and bring peace to the region.
Alongside the economic and political sanctions imposed by Governments, NATO and other nations around the world the ad industry has continued to do its bit by suspending, closing or banning its business with any Russian based organisations.
In the last seven days the likes of WPP and Unilever has paused its media operations and ad spend in the country in their bid to try and force Putin’s hand to stop this war.
As the week wore on even brands like McDonald’s and Uniqlo, who had previously insisted they would not suspend business in the country, have relented and followed suit. And this is something we believe will continue the longer the war goes on. Yes, there is a long-term reputational issue to think about for brands, but ultimately, it’s about doing their bit to stop arguably the biggest humanitarian crisis since the Second World War and the very real prospect of a Third World War happening if Russia is not stopped.
What’s now interesting – and this could set a very interesting precedent – is the sanctioning of the Russian oligarchs and the freezing of their assets.
As an example, the UK Government yesterday froze the assets of Roman Abramovich and this included his ownership of Chelsea Football Club. Effectively this could mean the end of an entire business if a buyer cannot be found and the funds not finding their way to Abramovich. It means the club is effectively in administration with the club shop being forced to shut – more on this in a moment – and the club not allowed to sell merchandise or tickets for its games.
The knock-on effect of this is whether the brands who partner commercially with the club can afford to be associated with a product that is owned by someone with close ties to Putin. It’s a tough one to navigate when the sponsor has a contract and is paying them millions of pounds each year for the privilege. We’ve already seen mobile network 3 suspend its sponsorship, while Hyundai are close to doing likewise. The big question next is whether kit sponsor Nike – which currently pays the club £60m a year – decides to pull the plug, particularly as it’s a brand that has a very distinct and brave ethos on injustice of any kind and is one of the first brands to make stance regardless of what that means for its sales. Everyone is waiting to hear what the iconic brand will do.
As well as a commercial nightmare for Chelsea this and the shop closing means that more innocent people – the shop workers and the people running the sponsorship accounts for the club and the brands – are likely to lose their jobs and face very uncomfortable conversations with their employers.
This is something that doesn’t look like it’s going to get any easier over the coming days or weeks. As a business Festival of Media has had a number of difficult – although nothing in comparison to what is happening to the people in Ukraine – conversations. Over the last three years we’ve spent time encouraging Russian businesses to showcase their media work in our awards programmes and this year we had received brilliant entries and even had two Russian based jury members.
However, we quickly realised that no matter how modest or big, everyone around the world opposed to the invasion of Ukraine has to do what they could to try and bring about peace.
So, this week we had to hold some difficult conversations with both the Russian entrants and judges and explain that we couldn’t support, showcase or amplify anyone, or any work from a Russian based company. It’s sad as none of the above agree with what their country’s leader is doing and are just more innocent victims of this needless invasion, but it’s the right thing to do and it’s good to see our peers Cannes Lions and D&AD taking a similar stance.
We will say it again, but it’s time for peace, not war. Our thoughts and prayers go out to all of the innocent victims in Ukraine who have lost their lives and to everyone else who has been affected by this war.