From Love Story to Love Lost: Brands and The Olympics

by Sharp | August 4, 2016

Friday August 5th, 2016 kicks off one of the most controversial Olympic games to ever be held. Amid doping scandals, sub-par conditions for athletes, and a range of other concerns, the Olympic Games could probably use all the positive publicity that they can get… but it won’t be coming from most brands.

Following in the footsteps of this year’s Super Bowl, the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) is cracking down on the trend of non-sponsor brands utilizing their moment in time for clever social media marketing content. Beyond the typical “don’t use our logo” and other trademark restrictions, the USOC released an extensive list of rules for this year that bans brands from parodying the iconic Olympic logo, wishing athletes luck in their events, and even Retweeting content containing official properties such as logos and hashtags.

This begs the question, is the USOC going too far in policing the participation of brands in their events? The Olympics are a cultural touch point for every country involved, and is it smart to alienate so many brands from participation? It certainly seems like this move could be driven by large brand sponsors like Coca-Cola and McDonald’s, who would naturally seek to monopolize as much of the social media attention being driven by the games. But is the Olympics truly afraid of losing such big-ticket sponsors because of rogue social media content by non-partner brands? The theory points strongly toward the impact that social media continues to have as a revenue driver and an enhancement for big ticket sponsorships.

That being said, some brands have found creative workarounds to the rules. A notable example, Go Pro, featured Olympic swimmer Missy Franklin in an inspiriting video series that aired well before the July 27th start date of the 5 week blackout period when the rules apply. Undoubtedly this content will continue to make the rounds during the games, though the brand can’t promote the video directly.

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Additionally the track & field Olympic trials saw some irreverent push back through the use of billboard trucks being driven around the area in protest. The boards read “Good luck, you know who you are, on making it you know where.”

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Some Olympians themselves even addressed the issue, taking a moment to call out why they wouldn’t be thanking their personal sponsors during the games.

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As the flame lights in Olympic Stadium on Friday and the social media buzz heats up, it remains to be seen if brands will abide by or flaunt the strict guidelines. And beyond that, it will be interesting to see if the USOC follows through on their threats to contact brands and demand removal of their Olympic-themed content. Either way such a strong focus on social media guidelines has many a gold-medal community manager settling for bronze this year.

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