Can Small Businesses Use the Olympics as a Local Marketing Opportunity? Brandmuscle Experts Discuss.

With the 2016 Summer Olympic Games kicking off tonight, marketing pros at all levels are salivating over what will likely be the largest collective global audiences since, well, the 2012 London games. (That’s 3.6 billion people if you’re counting.) Official sponsor mega-brands like Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Visa, P&G and Bridgestone have a clear path to reach their target audience using television advertising, event signage, online placements and an assortment of other tactics directly tied to the Games. The rest of us need to be a bit more creative.

Following the model of Oreo’s famous “You Can Still Dunk In The Dark” Super Bowl tweet, many brands will look to approach the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, with their real-time marketing hats on. Leveraging this global popular culture phenomenon using hashtags, athletes and timing, even local small businesses stand to elevate their exposure during the Games on social media and beyond.

But not so fast.

According to modifications of Olympics’ Rule 40 that governs sponsorship guidelines, brands and businesses that aren’t official sponsors could be sidelined by the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) for misusing intellectual property and infringing on Olympic trademarks. According to an AdWeek article, even the hashtag “#Rio2016” is off limits. Can’t believe it? Check out the full article to see everything you can’t do.

“Here Are the Many, Many Ways Your Business Can Get in Trouble for Tweeting the Olympics” – Chritine Birkner, AdWeek

So, you’re saying we shouldn’t Tweet?

Interpreting the USOC’s outreach to non-sponsors and the hard-and-fast line drawn in the revised Rule 40 would leave many marketers with a dose of pre-game paranoia. And I don’t blame them. Except for this: at the same time, social media channels like Instagram (who are officially covering the Games) are actively promoting the idea of social media advertising tied to the Olympics. Check out this article, also on AdWeek, in their SocialTimes section:

“Instagram Primes Advertisers for Rio 2016” – David Cohen, AdWeek SocialTimes


What is a local marketing pro supposed to do?

To make sure that our clients and small local business marketers around the globe feel better about their real-time marketing activities over the next few weeks — and to generally dissect this decision by the Olympic committee to restrict their marketing efforts — we asked an assortment of experts at Brandmuscle to see what they thought. Take a look at their comments below and let us know what you think about Rule 40, the Olympics as a marketing opporutnity or this post in the comments below.

**NOTE: the following advice is opinion only and is not to be taken as official advertising counsel. If you want that, just ask us!

1. Banning Hashtags Defeats the Purpose, Olympics

“The point of a hashtag is to get users to engage with it and therefore offer essentially free promotion and/or content for the brand associated with the hashtag (in this case, the Olympics). Banning the use of a hashtag simply defeats the entire purpose of a hashtag.  My advice for local affiliates is to SHARE content posted about the Olympics instead of creating it, thus reducing their liability because they did not write and publish the content, only shared it. HOWEVER, still avoid using the official Olympic hashtags as this creates an easy way for the Olympic committee to find your page and go after you for the use of their trademarks.” – Jordan Hershman, Social Media/Digital

2. Olympics May Be Overreaching, But It’s Not Worth The Risk

“Non-corporate entities are in the clear to tweet as they please, but I would recommend that Brandmuscle clients and national brands stay away from Olympic-anything on social media. Trademark infringement comes down to pretending to be something you’re not and most national brands don’t want to deal with figuring this out the hard way.” – Tommy Mendoza, Digital Media

3. Brands: Use Emotion to Capture Interest

“The Olympics were built on national pride, competition and a coming together of cultures. Whether I’m a consumer, small business, or Fortune 500 Company I should be able to show support for and pride in my Country. I would advise both national brands and small businesses to tap into this emotion without touching the sponsored hash tags.This is easier said than done. What Oreo did very well is they took a problem and turned it into an opportunity. The results showed that some of the best content can come when it’s a spontaneous, natural reaction to something that a lot of people share.” – Rob Swanson, Client Service

4. Regulations Makes Sense — Brands: Consider Your Size and Approach

“From a business stand point for the Olympic Committee (OC), it makes all the sense in the world to regulate advertising by making sponsorship a premium. As for advice, I would encourage my national brand clients and small businesses alike to think of different ways to help drive business and awareness during the event timings, but understand the risk. Large brands can expect legal action; a small local grocery store probably isn’t worth the OC’s time. I would ask myself and the client: “what is the goal we are trying to accomplish by leveraging the #Olympics” (oops, can I do that?). If it’s important to stand out of the pack just like Oreo did, and to generate more social presence, then support the Olympics during the event timings but prepared for the risks.” – Sanket Patel, Client Service

5. Big Brands Will Need to Get Creative

“While I understand the USOC wanting to restrict those big brands that are not official sponsors, and therefore not contributing financially to the Games, I think overall, restricting a hashtag seems to defeat the purpose of a hashtag all together. However, this could make the Olympic Social Media conversation more interesting, from a big brand perspective. This will require the major brands to become more strategic and creative if they truly want to post something relating to the Games, but must do so in a way that avoids the “banned” terms/words/tags.” – Stephanie Dowd, Local Marketing and Media

6. “Obscene” Move, USOC; Let Social Media Be Social!

This committee has completely missed the mark on what Social Media is. It’s an interactive platform creating a sense of community for people all over the world, and what better time to exploit these capabilities then the Olympic games? But instead of homing in on this possibility they are trying to restrict it. In my eyes, why create a hashtag if people aren’t allowed to use it? I understand restricting brands from creating print materials, billboards, commercials spots, etc., but to completely ban even a retweet on Twitter is obscene. If anything, I think these restrictions are going to create an avenue for fantastic out-of-box ads that we wouldn’t have otherwise seen.  Go #TeamUSA… oh wait, can I say that?” – Emily White, Social Media and Digital

7. Finally – Some Clarity!

“Personally, I am excited about the new rules. Although it sometimes makes it difficult for us to promote our clients/brands, we have previously been working with unclear guidelines. More clear guidelines make it so much easier for us to be creative, and proactive when dealing legal restrictions!” – Brianna Schwartz, Designer (Major Beverage Brands)

8. You’re Making a “Worldly” Event Less Worldly

“Since when are hashtags an ownable thing? They have been morphed from a basic use case to mean much more, but these aren’t even branded terms that are ownable. I think this is a sad decision for marketers and the public who want to contribute to the conversation about the Olympics. This is a worldwide event about community and competition. This goes against those intentions. Now if we’re talking about owning something like #mybusinessRIO2016 then I get it, but not here. #RIO2016 #TEAMUSA #HASHTAGS” – Jason Tabeling, Digital

9. The Olympics Are Keeping Things Positive

“Banning the public use of Olympic specific hashtags defeats the purpose of why hashtags came to be; however, I understand the strategy behind it and can appreciate it. Realistically, an event like the Olympics probably doesn’t need the assistance of hashtags to draw attention or engagement around it. Unfortunately, because of how interactive hashtags have become, they have the ability to spawn negativity as fast – if not faster – than they do the ability to positively promote a message or event. Monitoring the use of hashtags could protect the integrity of the events and ensure that the good name of the Olympics stays just that: good.” – Nick Leheney, Local Marketing and Media

10. They’re Doing It For One Reason: $Money$

“I can see where the committee could be coming from: they don’t want brands to abuse the intellectual property and rights by misusing the hashtag to promote something that they are selling when they are in no way affiliated with the games. I think that they can monitor it heavily and I do think that they can go after the brands that are illegally misrepresenting the Olympics ‘brand.’ However, I do think that this is just another way for the committee to make another buck. I’m not entirely thrilled about it, but, like I said, I can see why they would do that or why any business would do that. It makes a lot of sense.” – Danielle Chavarria, Designer (Major Beverage Brands)


Soooo, what do you think? Let us know your reaction or advice to brands and local marketers in the comments below.