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Rule 40 Update: The Real Olympic Marketing Medalist

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There is no doubt the Olympics provide an opportunity of a lifetime, not only for athletes, but for marketers. Over the past four years, the marketing landscape has changed dramatically due to advancing technologies, strategies and insights. For marketers, keeping up with these changes has been the easy part, developing strategies that effectively influence demographics without running into rule 40 restrictions is the challenge.

In a recent blog post we briefly touched on rule 40 and the limitations it places on non-official sponsors of the Olympics. Below we will explore the Olympic marketing landscape further, and feature some brands we think own the Olympic conversation.

Rule 40 Update

In recent times, the International Olympic Comity (IOC) swore by rule 40, however brands and athletes alike protested heavily against the regulations, arguing that they were deprived of commercial attention and income during their most marketable moments. In response to this, the IOC decided to let its hair down, essentially opening its doors to non-official sponsors so they too can benefit from their ties to the much-awaited event of the year.

Athletes are now able to appear in ‘generic’ advertising campaigns that do not use any Olympics intellectual property. However to take advantage, athletes and sponsors needed to submit waivers to the USOC by January, with the ads being in marketing by March.

These changes still limit non-sponsor involvement. According to the still-standing IOC documentation, “the general principle of Rule 40 is to prevent the impression of a commercial connection between any non-Olympic partner and the Olympic Games, the IOC, the Olympic Movement, the Organizing Committee of the Olympic Games, or the Participant’s National Olympic Committee or National Olympic Team.” I.e. - the way the IOC prevents the risk of “commercial connection” is through creating a blackout period. In Rio’s case, the blackout period runs from July 27 – August 24.

If you’re not a regular individual, news entity, or official sponsor, you’re essentially unable to engage with ‘Olympic properties’. These include the interlaced ring symbol, flag, anthem, motto, emblems, mascots, the word “Olympic” and other Olympic-related terminology. As one might imagine, this list includes thousands of properties.

Is It Worth It?

It’s been estimated that the cost of a top-tier Olympic partnership totals as much as $1 billion over the course of each four-year Olympiad. In this social media driven media landscape, it’s no surprise the IOC work hard to enforce such strict rules to protect the value of the advertising they’ve sold.

Although the IOC tries to keep athletic events free of marketing, there are exceptions, with official sponsors of course. Panasonic have been able to get their logo into events with replays being shown on Panasonic branded screens. Another example of this are the Omega branded timing devises used in events such as track and field and swimming. However, these placements alone don not justify the incredible ad spend.

The true value of being an official sponsor lies in the execution of a brands advertising, and without spots that are relevant, timely, and compelling to their target audience, the advertising dollars spent are being wasted. In theory, and digitally speaking, the changes in rule 40 now means the differentiation between official and non-official sponsorship is essentially the right to use particular trademarked content; a step-up in the social conversation.

Marketers Gonna Market

The reality is, all brands are going to talk about the games on social media, and despite it being a minefield of regulations, some non-sponsor big brands are still managing to leverage the phenomenon without breaking the strict intellectual property rules. In fact, the most buzzed ads of the games so far haven’t been those of sponsors, thanks to the recent rule 40 update.
With over 10 million YouTube views, Under Armour’s Michael Phelps ad is one of the most shared Olympics spots ever. The ad, part of the “Rule Yourself” campaign, is an indisputable victory for the company.

The ads aren’t Under Armour’s only Olympic marketing success. Under Armour provides uniforms and other apparel for US gymnastics, and it’s been rewarded with the logo appearing prominently during the team’s widely watched routines.
Another favorite of ours is Virgin Media’s #BeTheFastest spot, of course featuring the fastest man in the world, Usain Bolt. The ad celebrates Bolt’s achievements, while dramatizing the importance of speed.

The IOC’s decision to relax the rules is an acknowledgement that, thanks to social media, ambush marketing is more fluid than ever. The marketing surrounding the games is now more competitive than we’ve ever seen, and the importance that now falls on how sponsorship's are activated is at its heaviest point. We’d love to hear how your brand’s contributed to the conversation. Comment bellow or tweet us: @BFMweb.

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