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New Risks Surrounding the Olympics: Tweeting Could be Risky for Non-official Sponsors

Comments  /  Gabby Weissburg

8-5-16 Olympics BlogThe 2016 Summer Olympics is already riddled with talk of risk, from health concerns surrounding Zika and polluted water, to safety issues at venues and even in the Athlete’s Village. However, Olympics sponsors could also be facing some risks when it comes to promoting their affiliation with the Olympics games through social and other forms of media.

Despite recent changes to The International Olympic Committee’s rules for advertising, companies could still face consequences for Tweeting about the Summer Games.  Previously, the IOC’s Rule 40 barred non-official sponsors from advertising during the games in any way.  Even if companies sponsored Olympic athletes, Olympians could not mention the brand on social media and the brand could not use the athlete in its advertisements.

However, in June 2015, the IOC changed this rule, allowing non-sponsors to have more freedom with their ads.  Non-official sponsors can now use Olympic athletes in their ads but without any clear mention of the games or any Olympic intellectual property through the blackout period.  The sponsored athletes can now also Tweet about non-official sponsors during the games.

However, with those Tweets come major restrictions that some companies feel are excessive.  If companies choose to Tweet about the games, they will have to be very creative about using Olympics-specific content.  The U.S. Olympic Committee, USOC, sent a warning letter recently to non-sponsor companies to remind them not to use Olympics intellectual property.  The letter informed companies that if they are not official sponsors, they cannot create posts that are Olympics-themed or even celebrate an athlete they sponsor’s performance during the games.

The Olympic Committee has a detailed list of restricted terms, images, and other content that is not allowed for non-sponsors to post from July 27- August 24.  For example, a non-sponsor cannot use trademarked words or phrases, official hashtags and logos, or references to the location of the Olympics, past, present or future.  While these rules may seem obvious to avoid using Olympic intellectual property, the rules get even more detailed.  Companies cannot wish Olympians good luck or congratulations, posts any pictures taken during the games, retweet or share anything from verified Olympics accounts or post any results from the games.

One sponsor is already paying the price for breaking these strict rules. The athletic wear company, Oiselle, has already been contacted by the USOC to remove their content that references the Olympics.  In a statement on their blog, Oiselle points out it is almost impossible to avoid Olympic logos or references when mention of the games is on athlete’s uniforms and all around the stadiums. The company will have to dramatically alter or not use pictures of their sponsored Olympic athletes to avoid breaking these restrictions.  Instead, they have encouraged supporters to follow their team member’s personal accounts to see live pictures of the games and words of encouragement and congratulations to their athletes.

Other companies agree that these rules are still too intense because any campaign plans had to be submitted to the USOC by January 27th.  Many athletes do not know if they will qualify for the Games by that date.  Therefore, for brands with smaller budgets or quick growth, it could be a risky investment. Social media is often the most cost-effective option for brands to promote their affiliation, but the strict regulations of social media content pose a problem.

The solution? Get creative! Brands will need to find ways to hype the Olympics with social media, while still following the rules. Oiselle and other smaller brands like Hoka have been using hashtags such as #TheBigEvent and #RoadtoReeyo.  Lesley Pinckney, The SVP of Digital and Social at GMR Marketing, suggests creating conversation by posting content about certain moments occurring in Rio.  As the Summer Olympics begin tonight with the long-awaited Opening Ceremony, consider how you how would creatively market your brand to avoid these risks.