Stuck On You: Sponsors Crowding Korea’s Olympic Pin Market

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Pin trading has been an Olympic tradition for years, symbolizing the cross-cultural exchange and goodwill at the core of the entire affair. Pins are always traded through barter, but this year the trading seems to be saturated with corporate marketing, taking away from the feeling of a wholesome barter experience and making it feel more like panhandling.

Stuck On You: Sponsors Crowding Korea’s Olympic Pin Market

by: Ben Fischer
published: February 9, 2018

Have corporations taken over Olympic pin trading? It feels that way here in Pyeongchang.

The good-natured exchange of pins (never selling, always bartering) is an Olympic tradition, a symbol of the cross-cultural exchange and goodwill at the core of the entire affair. But the tradition seems to be more corporate marketing activation than authentic practice anymore.

I’ve seen two pin traders so far at Pyeongchang, including one standing outside the International Broadcast Center on Wednesday. He displayed his wares and hustled passersby (usually busy journalists) with offers to barter. It felt forced; a bit like a panhandler.

On the other hand, my backpack is overflowing with corporate pins: Coca-Cola, Alibaba, Bridgestone, Intel, KT and Visa in the first couple days alone. Reuters is the only one given to me by someone who wasn’t trying to influence my coverage.

Coca-Cola gets credit for sending me a single pin in the mail. Alibaba gave me a pack of 16, in a heavy display box! My backpack is noticeably heavier now, and I suspect most of these won’t stay with me long. (It should be noted that most serious traders see sponsor pins as less prestigious than national pins, or pins from particular sports or prior Games organizers, so these carry less weight on the barter market.)

In the scope of marketing activation budgets that can eclipse $200 million for a quadrennial, the pins are a small component, and there’s always been an advertising aspect to this — Coca-Cola traditionally hosts the Games’ only officially sanctioned pin-trading marketplace. But sponsors are on the verge of overdoing it.

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