New Olympics Marketing Rules: Forewarned is Forearmed

Mightycall Team
Mightycall Team
31 July 2016 Business Insights

Everybody talks about the Olympics: not a single newscast misses covering the latest sports rumors and the rate of medals. “What a great marketing theme,” you might think. But before any activities, carefully look into the regulations. The U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) trademark is under federal law “36 U.S. Code Chapter 2205.” It sounds overly strict and it is indeed.

For many years only authorized sponsors could make promotional campaigns around the Olympics. And from hearsay, becoming a sponsor costs up to $25 million. Before now, official backers like McDonald’s, Coca-Cola and Visa were only beneficiaries of the grand event advertising.

But finally, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) proclaimed changes to its impenetrable rules. In February 2015, the IOC revised and accepted changes to the so-called “Rule 40” of sponsorship guidelines. The changes permit non-sponsor brands to create generic advertising with Olympic athletes’ participation. But here comes the snag — these companies can’t use any kind of USOC trademark or intellectual property:

  1. No Olympics-trademarked phrases or words, among others: “Team USA”, “gold”, “Olympic” and cognate words.
  2. No reference to the location of the Olympics (current and upcoming).
  3. No hashtags with Olympics trademarks like #Rio2016.
  4. None of official Olympics logos.
  5. No posts with the photos taken at the Olympics.
  6. No featuring of Olympic athletes in social posts.
  7. No posts of any Olympics results.
  8. No sharing of anything from official Olympics social media sources.
  9. No re-design of Olympic symbols.
  10. No Olympics theme for team-building events.
  11. And even: no best wishes for the athletes in promos.

Shortly, the USOC warns: “Do not create social media posts that are Olympic-themed, that feature Olympic trademarks, that contain Games imagery or congratulate Olympic performance unless you are an official sponsor as specified in the Social Media Section.”

More than that, the companies and athletes have to submit a request, plans for marketing campaigns and all relevant documents to the USOC 6 months ahead. And the promo must start approximately 4 months before the Olympics. For most small businesses that doesn’t make any sense. Women’s sportswear company Oiselle faced these timeframe terms and had to cancel its campaign. “To us, … the point and effectiveness of advertising are the timeliness,” said Oiselle’s social media director, Jacquelyn Scofield.

After the “Rule 40” update announcement most companies sounded off, that the rules are still too harsh for businesses of their size. But as Winston Churchill said, “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”

Still bigger enterprises have more advantage. Sportswear giant Under Armour took the chance to engage a global audience. It has endorsed about 250 athletes. “Rule Yourself” is the name of the company’s global marketing campaign. The company gets around the restriction of using Olympics-branded language by using phrases like “the world’s biggest stage” — for sportspeople this could only be an Olympic performance. In ads, athletes train hard without spectators’, supervisors’ or fans’ support. They move steadily towards the Big Aim: “It’s what you do in the dark that puts you in the light.”

Gatorade Co., world-famous producer of beverages and food products for those who are into sports, created a cartoon about sprinter Usain Bolt. The featured movie ‘The Boy Who Learned to Fly’ shows in 6 minutes the biography of the world’s fastest man.

Non-sponsor companies who don’t engage athletes still participate in the Great Event conversation. Even Agent Provocateur, a British lingerie retailer, recently posted a promo of a swimsuit with a fit model holding a spear (some social media shows an oar) with a disclaimer “Look sexy, strong and ready for anything in athletic-inspired (swimsuit).”

Hinting at the Olympics buzz is only limited by imagination, creativity and sometimes catching the right moment of the event. Remember the Oreo Super Bowl blackout tweet in 2013? The power failure stopped the most watched event at that moment. Within a few minutes, Oreo tweeted “Power out? No problem. You can still dunk in the dark.” This tiny prompt ad got 5,000 Facebook shares, 18,000 Facebook likes and 10,000 re-tweets for zero dollars spent on a marketing campaign.

Though the rules are still draconian for small businesses, there are always ways to go with the precise message to the audience.

Besides, former USOC marketing chief Rick Burton believes that the rules could become more relaxed in the near future: “This is the first iteration of Rule 40 in this format, and if the athletes or little brands complain further, theoretically wise minds will come together about how the rule needs to be modified going forward.”

So follow the Olympics — both the Games and behind-the-scenes — and you will get your slice of the marketing pie.

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