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The Danger of Posting Golden Content During the Olympics

Posted By Erik Hillesheim; Finance and Data Associate, Thursday, August 11, 2016
Updated: Thursday, August 11, 2016

As August rolls in, we Minnesotans not only look forward to the 80 degrees and humid days, cabins, and lakes, but also wait in anticipation for the Olympic games. Around the office, Paul Hanscom can be heard by the distinct scratching of his 5 o’clock shadow in the flicker of his laptop, awaiting the 3 a.m. Olympic medal tally update on CNN.

Spirits are high and people are excited to see the greatest athletes from all around the world gather to compete and embody the international values of friendship, respect, and excellence. For companies and associations alike, marketing departments are looking for ways to leverage the excitement and connect with members and consumers around this awesome community.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC), however, says hold your horses, not only to equestrian fans, but also brands and businesses all around the world. By taking an in-depth look at permitted marketing content around the Olympics, the recent changes in rules surrounding this content, and the core of the debate that drove the change in the rules, your association can learn how to leverage the Olympics hype within the restrictions of these new rules.

Official Brand Protection Guidelines, created by the IOC to protect Olympics sponsors, provide a promise to official sponsors like McDonald’s and P&G to safeguard the exclusivity of content surrounding the events. Rules that apply to businesses and associations not sponsoring the Olympics include not using trademarked phrases and/or words as well as references (direct or indirect) to the location of the games including but not limited to the following:

  • Olympian, Olympic, Future Olympian, Olympiad, Paralympics, Paralympiad
  • Gateway to gold, go for the gold
  • Let the games begin
  • Pan Am Games
  • Team USA
  • Road to Rio, Rio 2016

You also can’t modify words to include Olympics in them, such as cinemalympics. Hashtags from the games are prohibited. Using Olympics logos is a no-no. You can’t even reteweet official Olympics accounts or use Olympic athletes in your social posts. Most disappointing to us, however, was that you couldn’t host Olympic-themed contests or events for employees. With all of these restrictions, companies and associations are severely limited in what they can do with their marketing efforts.

This past year, Rule 40 was modified to accommodate brands that aren’t official sponsors of the Olympics. It now allows for Olympic athletes to be featured in general advertising that doesn’t mention Olympics or its intellectual property. Debate has focused on how much this will actually help brands, especially those that don’t have a partnership with someone such as Michael Phelps. With the way that marketing campaigns must be structured under the revision, small businesses and associations have a much tougher time monetarily running one of these campaigns. On the other side of the coin, the IOC is worried about protecting the payoff to its partner brands and the potentially diminishing value of their deals.

Like other brands, your association is probably looking to leverage the Olympics to build your engagement and reach. Working within the boundaries of the Brand Protection Guidelines can be challenging, but here are a few ways that your association can use the Olympics to push awesome content to your current and potential members in case you aren’t already sponsoring Michael Phelps:

Campaign around alternative terms for the games

Because a majority of references to the games aren’t allowed, try referencing the games by using hashtags such as #TheBigEvent or #TheWorldwideStage. This avoids restrictions without sacrificing the connection members will make with your marketing efforts.  

Mobilize creativity quickly on current events

This strategy was possibly perfected by Oreo at the Super Bowl this past year when the power went out. “Power out? No problem. You can still dunk in the dark”, connects with Oreo’s audience, doesn’t infringe upon IP of official sponsors, and boosts brand impressions and engagement. While difficult to be this creative AND timely, this can be an extremely effective and inexpensive way to promote your association. With a transportation infrastructure, housing, and drinking water that might not be completely ready for attendees and athletes in Rio, there are bound to be a few surprises. We advise you to always err on the side of caution, especially since these are serious problems and may have direct, and potentially harmful, effects on people. The last thing you want is to pay the price for trying to be too creative.

Create campaigns around ideas that align with the Olympic spirit

Nike’s Greatness Campaign and Under Armor’s Rule Yourself Campaign are great examples. They portray competition, hard work, humility, respect, and diligence, all values commonly associated with the games. Even if you don’t have an Olympic athlete as a brand ambassador, content can be geared, especially via video, to match the persona of the Olympic spirit and connect with members.


There’s no better time to put your marketing content in front of such a huge variety of eyes all focused on the same thing. Look to take advantage of this unique event. If you need to get some creative juices flowing, here’s an article with 7 impactful Olympics campaigns. Would your association like a free social media audit and consultation?

Questions around social media best practices?

We’re more than happy to help you draft a small, medium, or large-scale campaign for the Olympics. Feel free to shoot our Marketing Director an email: Katemh@ewald.com. In the most broad and ambiguous terms, “We hope your association’s marketing can find itself on the podium and in the spotlight after #TheBigEventInBrazil this year.”

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