Can We Talk About Something Other Than Zika?RioOlympics

With under a month to go until Rio, much of the attention thus far has been focused on the financial issues plaguing Brazil, safety of International athletes and of course, the fear of Zika virus which has led to several high profile athletes pulling out of the 2016 games. But when the Opening Ceremonies take place on August 5th, we anticipate the stories topping the headlines will be focused more on thrilling victories, heartbreaking defeats and the hot new up and comers. You know….all of those cliché come-from-behind-life-moments narrated by Bob Costas that get our blood pumping and bring out the passion for Badminton, Handball or Fencing we didn’t know we had.

And behind these incredible moments in sports also live great opportunities for advertisers to align with something that inevitably, despite controversy, always seems to find a way to unite an audience and get people. In a world of extreme fragmentation, the Olympics offers brands an amazing platform every 2 years to align with real time competition and inspirational storylines, all in front of a pretty massive audience.

In the world of Olympic advertising, you are likely to notice one big change this year. The IOC shook up the rules for advertising in Rio 2016 when it announced changes that opened the door for more brands to benefit from their ties to the games, even if they aren’t official Olympic sponsors.

In the past, official sponsors like Visa and P&G had a big lock on the games and any true integrations with its’ athletes. Non-sponsors were not allowed to feature Olympic athletes that they had sponsorship deals with in ads and athletes were barred from tweeting about non-official sponsors. With some pretty hefty restrictions in place (more on that later), that is no longer the case with what is now known as RULE 40. Athletes can now appear in generic advertising that does not explicitly mention the games or use any Olympic intellectual property (like those iconic rings). Athletes also are now allowed to tweet about non-official sponsors. There’s one pretty big caveat though. To take advantage of these changes, U.S. athletes and non-sponsor brands had to submit marketing plans & waivers to the USOC by January 2016 and ads must have already hit the market by March of this year. Brands like General Mills, Red Bull and Go Pro were quick to jump on the opportunity.

Under Armour, which is not an official Olympic sponsor but sponsors 200+ Olympic athletes, has been one of the most notable beneficiaries of Rule 40, launching Spring campaigns featuring Michael Phelps and the U.S. Womens Gymnastic team, which are sure to pick up steam as we approach the games.

Screen Shot 2016-07-07 at 4.19.44 PM

But some companies feel the rule is still too restrictive. In a recent AdWeek article, Sally Bergesen, founder and CEO of Oiselle, an athletic apparel company that sponsors 15 Olympic hopefuls, was quoted expressing her concern about the new rule. “The relaxed Rule 40 is a joke. You had to have submitted your campaign in January, before anybody’s qualified for anything. Then, you need to start running your campaign in March, so you don’t get any timing benefit with the Olympics. For small businesses, running an ad campaign from March through August is really expensive”.

Bergeson & Oiselle also made headlines this past week when one of their athletes, Kate Grace, unexpectedly won the Womens 800M at the Olympic Trials. Oiselle posted images of the victory on Instagram and were immediately contacted by the U.S. Olympic Committee to remove the images (and any other imagery of Grace competing at the Trials), calling it a violation because they are running Olympic related advertising without that prior approval.

There are some pretty major underlying questions and issues at play here:

  • What is considered advertising vs. content?
  • Who “owns” these athletes likeness and images?
  • If the sponsors can’t promote their affiliation, will the USOC plan to compensate athletes for the exposure they can’t get through their sponsors?
  • When it comes to sponsorships, how will this pit the big companies against the small companies and who will come out on top?

All BIG questions with no short term answers and what is sure to be a lot of back and forth over the coming months and years. But going back to this years games, what CAN we expect to see this year, besides a lot of controversy?

On the national stage, we expect to see everything from anthemic TV spots, designed to appeal to the emotional competitor in us all to use of emerging technologies and social channels to create even more engagement among viewers. NBC and Snapchat inked a deal this year giving Snapchat the first ever rights to Olympic video content as a third party. And even with the ongoing conversation around Rule 40, we also expect to see advertisers that aren’t officially engaged with the games trying to find ways around the restrictions by making up their own social campaigns, hashtags, etc. that creatively try to align while avoiding specific athlete and Olympics references.

For some of our local and regional clients, the Olympics can be a great springboard (ahem. Pun intended) to launch a new product or introduce a new brand message in front of the masses. The key with an Olympics media plan is a cross platform buy that incorporates both the big moments (Opening Ceremonies, Prime Time event spots, etc) with other supporting messaging opportunities (Less expensive Olympics dayparts, News coverage around Olympics, digital & social extensions). This allows advertisers to tell a more comprehensive story and gain frequency among a large and loyal Olympic audience.

The other opportunity that this allows advertisers is a big late Summer push prior to what is certain to be a political mess in late Q3 and Q4. If we can help our clients to gain some momentum coming out of the Olympics, we can hopefully avoid some of the clutter, fall out and rate pressure that we’ll all be seeing come September and October, and still finish the year strong.

So while you are donning your red, white and blue and chanting U-S-A from your living room in a few weeks, take note of the brands that are finding new and unique ways to integrate with the games and leverage the historic and noteworthy moments they are sure to provide. We’ll be watching (from the comfort of our Zika-free couches).

Written by: Danielle Perez, Director of Media