Planning to Post Socially for a Brand this Olympics? Read This First


I love the Olympics, and although the games in Rio have already been beset in controversy, I’ll be watching them, like many, through more channels than ever before. The U.S. Men’s basketball team has already been broadcasting exhibition games on Facebook Live. NBC, who spent a few bitcoins for exclusive broadcast rights to the Olympics, is now partnering with Facebook and Instagram for exclusive video content, social influencers, and Snapchat, this will be a “Social Olympics” like never before. The games have been facing new media challenges through history. Most Americans saw the historic feats of Jesse Owens in the 1936 Berlin games in movie theaters and read about them in newspapers. More recently competition schedules in Beijing were reworked for live television coverage in the west. Many new rules for social media were first implemented during the London games, and have been refined. It got to the point where some wondered what clothing with brand logos they could even wear to official venues.

Twitter @emmajcoburn
Twitter @emmajcoburn

Many brands are looking to jump into the conversation, and as we counsel clients who are not Olympic sponsors, there are some key things to know to avoid the team of lawyers monitoring and enforcing copyright laws for the games and their official sponsors. Are you aware of the “blackout period” that started last Wednesday and continues through August 24? How about Rule 40? We saw some foreshadowing of what they are looking for during the U.S. Track and Field trials. If you are managing a social media brand page, there are some important things to know to help navigate the next few weeks.

Different rules for people and brands. They want fans talking and sharing about the Olympics, but when brands jump in, it jeopardizes the lucrative sponsorships. IP lawyers describe this as “ambush marketing” and it is big business. They even qualify it by saying personal accounts with “non-commercial purposes.” This brings into question the strategy of paying online influencers to post on your behalf. Consider contract language that addresses this possibility.

An agreement with an athlete is not an agreement with the Olympics. You cannot use images of athletes in connection with any Olympic properties, but the rule goes even further.

“Rule 40 also prohibits companies that sponsor Olympic athletes, but who are not Olympic sponsors themselves, from promoting acknowledging, or even congratulating their athletes on social media.”

I’m not a lawyer, but my read on this is you can congratulate them, but you better not use the word “Olympics” or an image of them from the games, and probably even an image of them with your brand logo or product. A recent AdWeek post states you can’t even retweet an official Olympic account from your brand page or use their hashtags in posts. You may be surprised to see that Krave jerky has instore Olympic athlete displays, but remember, they were acquired by Hershey’s which signed a five year sponsorship last year. An interesting bonus as premium boutique brands are purchased by large food companies with the budget to be official sponsors.

Their lawyers miss nothing. You can’t even put out Olympic ring bagels without being noticed. Expect them to have the best monitoring tools available, and don’t expect to simply fly under the radar. Remember how everyone was doing their own version of the Instagram logo? Don’t even think about doing that with your brand. Even five beer coasters arranged in a similar way will draw their ire.

We’ve covered the ABC’s to enjoy the games, and hope you enjoy all the stories, competition and pageantry. Ultimately I suggest you tread lightly, error on the side of caution, and avoid blatant infringements. If you do receive a cease and desist notice, follow the instructions, remove the posts, and rethink your approach. This has been an evolving target. Hey, let’s be careful out there.


I’d love to hear how you are going to approach brand marketing during the next few weeks, and if you need guidance on your social strategy, please contact us through the site and share your concerns in the comments.

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