What your need to know about Rule 40 & Olympic advertising

It’s the sporting event of the year, but if you were planning on capitalising on the Olympic Games in your own advertising campaigns, you might want to think again. Since 2012, there have been changes to the 40th rule of the International Olympic Committee that you need to be aware of.

What is Rule 40?

Rule 40 is a policy designed to protect the rights of Olympic sponsors. This rule prevents non-sponsors from using athletes names, images or sporting performances in their advertising campaigns during the blackout period, i.e. just before the Games until a few days after they are over. While it’s the responsibility of the athletes to comply with this rule, businesses will want to make sure they are not putting any athlete in breach of Rule 40 either.

Rule 40 also puts in place new restrictions on the use of certain words and logos which relate to the Games, even if an athlete is not featured in the advert.

So what’s Rule 40 stopping you from doing?

Given that official sponsors pay a lot of money to associate their brands with the Olympics, it’s understandable that they don’t want every business allowed the opportunity to capitalise on the event. Many sporting events are ‘ambush marketed’ due to the public interest surrounding them. However, you can often tap into this public interest without using legally protected words and logos.

That’s why Rule 40 strictly bans non-Olympic partners from using certain phrases such as Olympic(s), Rio, Gold, Games or even Summer, (depending on the context of the message).

  • Other aspects you are not permitted to include in your advertising are:
  • The Olympic symbol (the five rings)
  • The Olympic motto: Citius – Atius – Fortius
  • Any Olympic trademarks
  • “Rio 2016” and the Rio 2016 emblems and mascots
  • “Team GB”, their motto, logos or hashtags
  • Any other Olympic Games kit, i.e the medals, team kits…etc.
  • Images and footage of the Games
  • Re-tweeting any Team GB tweets or athlete’s posts relating to the Games during the blackout
  • Referencing athletes participation in the Games via congratulatory message during the blackout.

The result of Rule 40

Naturally, many brands are put out by the general wording that they must avoid, particularly in reference to the hashtags and social media elements of Rule 40. While this will certainly become harder to regulate through the blackout period, the IOC and BOA are taking it seriously so far. Brands looking to jump on the bandwagon need to consider whether ambush marketing will truly give them the exposure they need. Perhaps instead they should turn their attention to creating an advertorial campaign that doesn’t rely on a summer event.

Is there any way to get around it?

We’ve got a few ways that you can try to work around the strictness of Rule 40, but it is difficult. Here’s what we’ve got for you to try…

1. Using sport-related phrases
As long as you avoid directly referring to the Olympics, you should be okay. Phrases like “everyone’s a winner with our…” And “don’t fall at the first hurdle, get our…” Only really imply a link to sport in general – but with the Games going on, who wouldn’t make the connection?

2. Get inspired by Adidas’ #SpeedTakes
Adidas’ hashtag #SpeedTakes does a good job of focusing specific traits that a good athlete has, rather than the Games themselves. Why not try basing a campaign around something similar – determination, training, focus, etc. Just keep it relevant to your own product and brand.

3. Take the tongue in cheek approach
When all else fails, you can always fall back on light-hearted humour. Considering how drastic this Olympic marketing rule really is, it’s quite easy to take a tongue in cheek stance with it. Brands such as Oiselle and Hoka have made use of hashtags such as #TheBigEvent and #RoadtoReeyo, for example. Our own phrasing would be “that rather big event in Brazil”, but whatever works for you…

The full guidelines for advertising around the event can be found here.


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