Marketing and the Olympic Games: how to get it right

With the Rio 2016 Olympic Games formally opening today, bask in the glow of the games without falling foul of the law

Marketing and the Olympic Games: how to get it right

From the moment the Queen and her corgis made their cameo alongside Daniel Craig’s Bond, The London 2012 Olympic Games captured the country’s imagination and became a resounding success. So it’s not surprising that many brands would want to be associated with the positive buzz around Rio 2016 . But before you rush off to tell the world about how the speed of your money transfer service could give Usain Bolt a run for his money, make sure your plans don’t land you on the wrong side of the law.

The Olympics brand is heavily trademark-protected and there is special legislation in place to prohibit anyone who isn’t an official sponsor from even mentioning the athletes taking part. Amy Shaw, digital PR executive at Curated Digital, the digital marketing agency, explains: “Rule 40 specifically states that you cannot use the Olympics to market yourself as a brand. If you do, you could have legal action taken against you.”

There are even restrictions on what you can and can’t say on social media. If you’re considering showing support for Team GB, bear in mind that only sponsors are allowed to use hashtags like #Rio2016 and #Olympics or post photos and videos from the events. “Don’t even think about sharing a nice photo of a British athlete crossing the finish line and don’t mention ‘gold’ or ‘going for gold’ in any marketing collateral during the games,” says Nial Toner, head of digital marketing at The Tomorrow Lab, the digital marketing agency.

But that doesn’t mean you have to sit out entirely: there are some creative ways startups can take advantage of the games without risking heavy penalties.

1. Be reactive

On the back of news that Team Russia has been heavily diminished in the wake of the doping scandal, Irish bookmaker Paddy Power ran a characteristically cheeky print promotion saying: “Urine luck! Money back as a free bet on any Team GB or Ireland athlete if they finish 2nd to Russia.”

There was no explicit mention of Rio 2016 but nobody was in doubt about what the brand was referencing.“Look out for the breaking stories during the Olympics and the events or athletes making the news for the right and wrong reasons,” advises Toner.

2. Be subtle

While it may seem like Rule 40 prevents small businesses from talking about the Olympics in any capacity, that isn’t the case. “You can get creative with your marketing efforts without having to mention athletes, events or anything related to the Olympic Games,” says Toner.

Shaw agrees: “For example, running a campaign talking about Britain’s favourite sports is fine – as long as you don’t mention the games.”

3.  Be patriotic

You may not be able to mention the 366 members of Team GB by name but you can still join in by embracing the wave of patriotism that sweeps the nation every four years. “This is a time when everyone comes together to support their country, so tapping into those emotions with your brand could get some great results,” Shaw adds.

Just because you aren’t an official sponsor doesn’t mean you can’t cross the finish line as a winner. 

Eric Johansson
Eric Johansson

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