Social media and The Olympics – a sponsor’s minefield
It’s a little scary to think the 2016 Olympics will be soon upon us.
It still feels like yesterday that Greg Rutherford, Jessica Ennis-Hill and Mo Farrah won gold in London on Super Saturday, getting the nation buzzing with pride as Team GB went from one success to another during the hazy summer of 2012.
I was lucky enough to be living in London during the Olympics, and it was by far my happiest period living in the Big Smoke – the atmosphere was like no other, and the sense of camaraderie among Londoners and visitors was at an all-time high. Well, sort of.
Personally, one of the most interesting, and challenging, aspects of 2012 was understanding how I could talk about the 2012 Olympics on my clients’ behalf (non-sponsors) or even use a Union Jack flag in any marketing materials – such was the strength of licences, and protection for the exclusive rights for sponsors to use any Olympic collateral.
It’s natural for any brand or business to want to piggyback on the popularity of major sporting occasions to engage the public, whether it’s launching themed products or creating sporty offers – or even just using brand ambassadors to talk about the event. Some, like those naughty so-and-sos at Paddy Power, hijack the news agenda to become front of mind, without spending a penny on sponsoring the event.
— Paddy Power (@paddypower) June 7, 2014
In 2012 brands could just about get away with talking about the Olympics on social media, but the Times recently published a report that claims the British Olympic Association (BOA) is clamping down on unofficial sponsors more than ever, ahead of Rio 2016. The Times says British athletes’ individual sponsors face being banned from congratulating those athletes on winning medals, or even wishing them “good luck” at the Games.
This, of course, will affect all brands that sponsor Olympic athletes, throwing a spanner in their Olympic content strategies. In an attempt to prevent ambush marketing by non-Olympic sponsors, the ban also prohibits brands from retweeting any content from their athletes, or posts from Team GB, during the Olympics in Brazil.
British athletes could also face action if they cover the Adidas logo on their Team GB kit. Any breaches may lead to disciplinary action against athletes, who could be kicked out of Team GB altogether. And any brands who break the rules also potentially facing legal action. All pretty serious stuff.
The strict rules have raised a few eyebrows among some sports’ governing bodies, who feel the BOA is being just a tad over-protective of its financial interests, claiming banning athletes’ sponsors to post about the Olympics could jeopardise future funding for Team GB.
The BOA’s position is understandable. It has to protect its official sponsors, who are crucial to its success, so it is able to continue the great work it does and continue to produce Olympic champions.
But if we had a client in that situation to say I’d be frustrated would be an understatement – especially as the one of the main reasons for sponsoring athletes is to benefit from their successes at major games.
This new rule does feel a little counter-productive to me, and not in keeping with trying to generate as much support for Team GB as possible. It would be unique to the Olympics, too.
To put it on context, it would be hard to fathom FIFA banning Nike from create one of its iconic TV ads, featuring Ronaldo et al, during the World Cup. Well, maybe not – I suppose it depends how much money was put in the direction of Mr Blatter…
Another good example is how O2 used its sponsorship for the England Rugby Union team as a rallying call for the nation to get behind the Red Rose, as mentioned in my previous blog. Rather than restrict, it encouraged the public to drum up support for the team, owning hashtags and creating wide awareness for the World Cup.
So what can brands such as Quorn and Santander do to highlight their sponsorships on social media, or even other brands looking to piggyback on the Olympic buzz, given the new social media silence rule? It’s not easy, if you want to avoid incurring the wrath of the Olympic bods.
One fairly simple way of highlighting a sponsorship I would recommend is via online content, such as images, videos and gifs. All these can communicate an association with an athlete, leaving the audience to fill in the blanks.
Even better, why not get your social community to do the work for you? There are no rules on average Joes posting about how inspired by Team GB or individual athletes they’ve been. If your brand just happens to be part of that conversation, so be it…
Do remember that if you’re planning any content around the Games, caution is required. The IOC has made it clear that if you break its rules there will be consequences – ranging from the content’s removal, to withdrawal of the accreditation of the person responsible or even legal action.