Olympic Athletes And Sponsors Hate The New Advertising Rules But Maybe They Shouldn’t

Now that the Olympic games have begun after Friday’s opening ceremony, the IOC’s biggest marketing rule has been a trending topic amongst athletes and viewers alike.

In an effort to protect the business of the Olympics and companies spending millions of dollars to become official sponsors of the Olympics, the International Olympic Committee developed Rule 40 to prevent anyone who is not a sponsor of the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) from posting about the Games on social media platforms.

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If you are unaware of this rule, it is a by-law in the official Olympic Charter that states, “No competitor, coach, trainer or official who participates in the Olympic Games may allow his person, name, picture or sports performances to be used for advertising purposes during the Olympic Games” without explicit consent of the IOC board. In February 2015, the IOC decided to modify Rule 40 to allow generic and non-Olympic advertising during the Olympic games.

Before the change:

The original rule allowed only official Olympic sponsors— like Coca-Cola, General Electric, Visa and Samsung, brands who could afford to pay around $200 million each, permission to advertise during the games.

As for brands who sponsored specific Olympic athletes, they had to follow the “blackout period” in which they could not do any advertising with these athletes for the 9 days leading up to the Opening Ceremony. If these brands were not official Olympic sponsors, athletes could also not publicly mention their sponsors during the “blackout.”

After the change:

This year the “blackout period” still stands from July 27th-August 24th but the parameters have changed. Now non-official Olympic sponsors can run ad campaigns with the athletes they sponsor during the Olympics. But there’s a catch- these campaigns can’t have anything to do with the Olympics.

Advertisers can’t use hashtags or mention words like “Olympics”, “Summer Games”, “gold” or “Rio.” To work around this adjustment, brands have used phrases like “the big game” to follow the rule while also making sure everyone knows what they are referring to.

Here are some of the Olympic-related phrases Rule 40 has claimed: 2016 Rio; Rio de Janeiro; Gold; Silver; Bronze; Medal; Effort; Performance; Challenge; Summer; Games; Sponsors; Victory; Olympia; Olympic; Olympics; Olympic Games; Olympiad; Olympiads and the Olympic motto “Citius – Altius – Fortius.”

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In order to be able to run their campaigns, non-official Olympic sponsors had to start advertising no later than March 27th after submitting their proposals to the USOC by January of this year.

Non-official Olympic sponsors like Under Armour and GoPro have taken advantage of the change through creative marketing techniques and compelling messages.

Under Armour began their campaign with Michael Phelps in March to reveal an exclusive look at his rigorous training routine. This advertisement never even mentions the Olympics but it shows Phelps in a pool so it’s too not hard to figure out what he’s preparing for.

Another campaign worth noting was a YouTube series called “Two Roads” by GoPro showing the Olympic journeys of nine athletes, including the Bryan Brothers of tennis, and pole vaulter Allison Stokke. During any previous Summer Olympics these brands, not directly sponsoring the IOC or USOC, would not have been able to run their campaigns.

The rule change also applies to the athletes as long as they follow the same guidelines as their sponsors. Since the change, athletes have been able to mention and thank their personal sponsors during the Games without mentioning “rio”, “olympics”, “go for the gold” and any other phrases directly tied to the Olympics.

On July 26th about a week before the Opening Ceremony, you may have seen many athletes, such as Emma Coburn, thanking their sponsors before this year’s blackout period began.

One simple tweet during this period could cause serious penalties for an athlete. They could potentially be disqualified and even stripped of their medals if they violate Rule 40, depending on how much it is enforced in their respective nation.

It will be interesting to see how more brands create their “Olympic” campaigns in the future. Now let the “Games” begin!

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