Bypassing branding rules: How marketers can still capitalise on the Olympics

5th Aug 2016

Marketers love taking advantage of global events to get their prospects’ attention, and the Summer Olympics are no exception. Given it comes around only once every four years, marketers are going to be under pressure to make the most of a golden opportunity to leverage the excitement.

However a word of caution is required: there are quite a few rules governing the use of Olympics branding by third party companies, and so before you get started planning your stellar campaign, it’s well worth familiarising yourself with the regulations on what is and isn’t allowed. If you do not you may find yourself in hot water. The United States Olympic Committee has already warned brands about the rules: it’s safe to assume that the UK’s National Olympic Committee will be on the lookout for infringements as well.

So sit tight while we give you an overview of the branding rules, and then provide some smart tips on how to make the most of this summer’s biggest event.

The rules

The key thing here to remember is that, in most cases, you’re not allowed to use any intellectual property of the Olympic and/or Paralympic games without permission, or imply that your event, advertisement or promotion is related to or affiliated with the games. More specifically, this means that using the following terms in your marketing collateral is strictly off limits:

  • The Official Rio 2016 Olympic and Paralympic branding, including logos, symbols, and expressions.
  • The Olympic rings and Paralympic Agitos.
  • The Olympic and Paralympic mottos, creeds, flames, mascots, posters and medals.
  • Images of previous games.
  • Official designations and expressions, such as “Olympics”, “Olympic Games”, “Rio 2016”.
  • Mentioning specific competitors, coaches, trainers or officials participating in the games without the permission of the IOC Executive Board. Known as Rule 40, this is in place throughout the games as well as 15 days before and after the event.

This isn’t a complete list: to check if your marketing plans are compliant you should head over to the official Brand Protection Guidelines to make sure.

How to make the most of the Summer Games

Put simply, these rules are all there to prohibit the Olympic brand from being used in any commercial context, in order to protect the rights of both the companies who have paid to sponsor the games and the IOC itself.

With all these detailed rules, you might be forgiven for being worried about how to execute any kind of Olympic themed campaign or promotion. However, with a bit of creativity and lateral thinking, you’ve still got plenty of options. And the investment in coming up with these ideas is well worth it: it’s estimated that, of the people watching the Olympics, 59% of them will be using a smartphone at the same time. If you can deliver a message to these consumers that is on topic, without breaching the above rules, you will be putting yourself in front of a huge and captive audience.

  • The big countdown: as we’ve learned, you certainly can’t call it “the big Olympic countdown”, but that shouldn’t stop you. Put a countdown clock on your shop or website, and even embed one in your emails. This will promote a sense of excitement and urgency as your subscribers will rush to make the most of your sale before the time is up.
  • The opening ceremony: this is arguably the most popular part of the whole event, with 71% of those polled saying it was their favourite. Marketers should be getting involved by asking email subscribers to participate in a promotional event while the ceremony is happening, and incentivise them by offering special discounts to those who mention the ceremony’s theme.
  • Women in sports: everyone loves an uplifting story, and the IOC has committed itself to promoting gender equality in sports. Promote some feel-good content in your email newsletters by sharing inspiring stories of ‘successful against all odds’ female athletes - just make sure to not mention any 2016 competitors.
  • Medal and podium sales: we’ve all got a competitive streak, although we’re often more competitive with sports than with spending money! Bring some sporting competitiveness to your sales with a three-tiered pricing structure (Gold, Silver, and Bronze) and create your own unique imagery for it. For those who missed out first time round, restart the sale as a “podium sale”.
  • Keep subscribers updated: it’s OK to report to your subscribers on what’s happening in the games, as long as you aren’t explicitly using that reporting to promote your own goods and services. So keep your subscribers in the loop with what’s going on at your company, and what’s happening in Rio.
  • Scorecard discounts: who doesn’t like a bit of chance discounting? Offer your customers a random discount in the form of an interactive scorecard. You could even add in more fun with a sports-themed mini-game to emphasise the reasons behind the discount. Just remember to not use the Olympics name or associated brand imagery.
  • Get social: it’s the taking part that counts, as the expression goes! With a topic like sports and athletics there’s a variety of different interactive, social-media friendly campaigns available. Use polls to identify favourite, or least favourite, sports, post pictures of your employees playing sports and encourage customers to share that amazing goal or point they scored. Just make sure you don’t encourage specifically Olympic-themed responses from your community.

These ideas are just an introduction to the kinds of marketing activities you could be running over the next few weeks. It’s a rare opportunity for marketers: a global event that captures the attention of billions. The world’s marketers will be in competition with each other to try and grab some Olympic-inspired attention, so be prepared to get as creative as possible to ensure that your signal breaks through the noise.

Kim Stiglitz Courvoisier is director of content marketing at Campaign Monitor.


Replies (5)

Please login or register to join the discussion.

By Blessed25
05th Aug 2016 12:07

Kim - where does the IOC / Olympics committees stand on Twitter promotions, specifically using hashtags? Strikes me that there's something of a wild west to be capitalised on. Can a brand promote something with #Olympics or #Rio2016?

Thanks (0)
Chris Ward
By Chris Ward
05th Aug 2016 14:19

Some additional top tips from Nissan here in their recent Team GB spot:

Thanks (0)
Martin Calvert Marketing Director Blueclaw
By Martin Calvert
09th Aug 2016 09:28

Does this blog itself break the rules? :)

Thanks (1)
Replying to MartinBlueclaw:
By Neil Davey
09th Aug 2016 10:13

We've yet to hear from the IOC legal eagles. If this article suddenly disappears you'll know what happened though.... :-)

Thanks (0)
Replying to Neil Davey:
Martin Calvert Marketing Director Blueclaw
By Martin Calvert
09th Aug 2016 10:27

I'll monitor closely!

Thanks (0)