Sure, it’s pretty fun to engage in casual Cold War rhetoric whenever an All-American athlete crushes a Russian competitor. But it’s arguably just as interesting to observe Olympians getting creative with their Zika prevention, doping fiascoes, and athletes being guided toward substandard living quarters.
Over the past few weeks, Adweek‘s Christine Birkner has reported on another interesting Olympics topic that goes beyond the events themselves—corporate advertising and intellectual property.
Birkner reports that only official Olympic sponsors can use words such as “Olympic” or terms such as “Rio 2016” on their social media accounts. Non-official sponsors are also banned from posting Olympics results, wishing Olympians luck, or hosting Olympic-themed events for their employees.
As restrictive as those rules seem, they used to be even worse. According to Adweek:
In past Olympics, under the IOC’s Rule 40, official sponsors like McDonald’s, Procter & Gamble and Visa had a lock on advertising during the games. Athletes were barred from tweeting about non-official sponsors, and non-sponsors were not allowed to feature Olympic athletes that they had sponsorship deals with in ads. In February 2015, the IOC announced changes to the rule, which were adopted by the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) in June 2015. Those changes allow athletes to appear in generic advertising that does not explicitly mention the games or use any Olympic intellectual property (the Olympic rings, and terms such as “Olympics” “2016” “Rio,” “games” and “gold” are off limits). Athletes also are now allowed to tweet about non-official sponsors provided they don’t use such Olympic IP.
With the rules loosened, a non-official sponsor such as Under Armour can now promote an ad featuring an Olympian such as Michael Phelps. Previously, an ad like this would not have been allowed. But notice how the ad doesn’t feature any Olympic references or logos.
Birkner reports that companies are using various creative tactics to get around the intellectual property regulations. These tactics include alternative hashtags, patriotic Snapchat lenses, and using animals and animated fruit in place of humans when depicting athletic events in ads.
Sponsorships are a huge part of the Olympics, so it makes sense that the USOC wants to control the advertising around the games. The restrictions may seem overreaching, but then again, when it comes to the intersection of social/digital media and intellectual property rights, society has just been making up shit as it goes. What’s interesting about these rules is how they imperceptibly handicap many businesses from shameless branding.