August 18 2016

The “Rule 40” impact

Thought Leadership, Olympics, UK, Europe

We take a look at the impact the relaxation of the IOC’s Rule 40 has had on brand promotion from a marketing perspective.

Written by Jamie Fitzpatrick, Event Coordinator.

As Team GB begin to dream about an unprecedented second place finish in the medal table, brands across the globe continue to prosper from one of the biggest, yet subtle marketing law changes of recent Olympic history.

Under the original Olympic Law charter, namely Rule 40, only official sponsors such as McDonalds and Coca Cola could lawfully get consent to market and promote their products in association with the Olympics. However, recent subtle changes in this rule have allowed, for the first time ever, non-official sponsors to run ad campaigns during the games which exclusively use athletes, as long as they don’t link such campaigns to the Olympics with associated words such as “Rio 2016” or “Olympics”.

Under Amour’s “Rule Yourself” campaign, featuring the most decorated Olympian of all time, Michael Phelps, is a good illustration of a brand that has latched onto this idea. The YouTube hit, released back in March, showcases the exhausting day-to-day routine of a swimmer. Despite there being no explicit reference to the Olympics, it is clear what Phelps is in training for. Last week, Ad Week reported that the YouTube hit now stands in second place as the most shared video of the 2016 Olympics.

This relative freedom for brands to implement ‘licensed’ ambush marketing is in stark contrast to London 2012.  The restrictions under the old rules prevented Under Amour from promoting any sort of relationship with Phelps, who had already been aligned with their brand for two years. Perhaps more famously, Virgin Media had to pull all of its ads featuring Usain Bolt around the 2012 Olympics.

The positive impact for brands across the globe is undeniable, as those who would have otherwise found it difficult to compete with the budget of leading consumer brands, are now using the games as a stage on which they can demand a share of the voice.

Emma Coburn, having recently finished with a hard-fought bronze medal in the 3000m Steeplechase, proceeded immediately to remove her New Balance spikes and drape them over her shoulder. The result? Thousands of photos taken of her proudly displaying her sponsor and thus providing free promotional material, which New Balance otherwise would not have had. Under the national US Olympic team protocols in Rio all athletes are required to wear the Nike-issued team kit, but this excludes sunglasses, watches and shoes. Despite the advertising limitations that still remain, Coburn and New Balance cleverly exploited the new rules to perfection.

Naturally, with the rules as delicate as they are, there is a very fine line between clever marketing and over stepping the mark. However, as Under Amour and others have continued to prove, brands and athletes are becoming more and more prepared to test the waters.


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