August 17th, 2016

Digital Marketing During the Olympics

by Christine Hennessey

The Summer Olympics are finally here! Along with fierce competition, amazing athletes, and inspiring stories, the Olympics are also a great backdrop for winning marketing campaigns. For the next few weeks, #Rio2016 will be the ultimate trending topic. “I may not be able to swim as fast as Michael Phelps or execute a flawless floor routine like Simone Biles,” you might think, “but my hashtag game is unbeatable. Let the games begin!”

Not so fast.

As it turns out, the International Olympic Committee, or IOC, has some strict rules when it comes to social media and digital marketing. According to their official guidelines, they encourage participants and other accredited people to “take part in social and digital media and to share their experiences with their friends, family, and supporters.” The catch? These “accredited people” can’t use social or digital media for any commercial and/or advertising purposes in a way that would imply the two are directly associated.

This may seem counter intuitive. After all, hashtags, retweets, and trending topics are free advertising, and businesses and brands generally have a farther reach than individual fans. Why, then, would the Olympics want to limit what business can say about the Games in their digital spaces?

Because it makes being an official sponsor much more valuable. If you’re a business that pays to play, such as McDonald’s, Procter & Gamble, and Visa, you get exclusive rights to these key words and phrases. If you’re not an official sponsor, then including the following words in your ads and posts during the Olympics blackout period (July 27—August 24) is off limits: “Olympics,” “2016,” “Team USA,” “Road to Rio,” “games,” “gold,” and even “Let the games begin.” (Check out Adweek for the full list.)

Break the rules and you could get a cease-and-desist letter. In some cases, the IOC could even take legal action against your business. Oops.

Of course, it would be a shame to let the Games go by without contributing something to the conversation, whether it’s wishing a favorite athlete good luck or celebrating a record-breaking win. If you’re a small business or brand that would like to say something despite these restrictions, there are a few ways to be a part of the conversation without breaking the rules.

Get Creative

Oiselle, a women’s fitness apparel company, has come up with a way to talk about the Olympics without infringing on copyright laws. Instead of using any of the words and phrases on the no-fly list, they’re using hashtags such as #TheBigEvent. They’re also leveraging their brand ambassadors (a small army of 400 people) to talk about the Olympics on their behalf, since the IOC’s rules apply to brands and not people. This helps Oiselle keep their brand in the conversation, which is important—especially since they help sponsor some of the Olympic athletes.

Live in the Moment

Do you remember the famous tweet from Oreo’s during the 2013 Super Bowl? If not, allow me to refresh your memory. The power went out during the game—completely unexpected and clearly not planned—and Oreo was ready. They sent out a tweet, complete with a clever image, that said, “Power out? No problem. You can still dunk in the dark.” It was retweeted more than 16,000 times, went down in Twitter history as a win, and never even mentioned the Super Bowl—though everyone knew immediately what Oreo was doing. You can follow this model during the Olympics by alluding to things happening in the Games, especially ones during which emotions are key. For example, when Michael Phelps snags his 25th gold medal, your business could safely tweet something about the number 25, along with a GIF of Scrooge McDuck swimming in a pool of gold coins and be fine. Just remember that with this kind of post, timing is everything.

Head to Snapchat

Because videos posted to Snapchat (and, as of last week, Instagram Stories) disappear after 24 hours, they’re harder to police and offer a bit more flexibility. Ford has been using Snapchat in particular to talk about and celebrate the Olympics in a veiled manner. They recently released a series of Snaps that feature people using their Fords in athletic ways—a weightlifter putting boxes in the back of an SUV, for example. The name of the campaign? “Life is a Sport.” While it’s not directly about the Olympics and doesn’t break any of the rules, it’s clearly inspired by the Games.

Remember the Golden Rule

When it comes to digital marketing, the “golden” rule to remember is that anything and everything you post should focus on one thing—your audience. Before you pull out your hair trying to get around the IOC’s rules, ask yourself whether your audience needs to hear about the Olympics from you. If you’re a fitness brand, a travel agency, an apparel company, or a nutrition supplement, then yes. The Olympics are probably relevant to your brand and your audience would welcome anything clever or useful you could add to the conversation. If you’re part of an industry that doesn’t have a natural connection to the Games, or if you’re not well-versed enough in that world to make your posts convincing, well, your excitement about Katie Ledecky might not matter as much.

In that’s the case, I give you permission to enjoy the next few weeks the way most of us will—as a spectator. If, on the other hand, you want to enlist the help of a marketing agency to help you come up with the perfect plan for a trending topic, during the Olympics and beyond, contact the team at Sage Island. We specialize in winning strategies that will turn your business into an industry champ.

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