How your business can legally benefit from the Olympics

feature-olympics-200With companies like McDonald’s, Coke and Visa paying up to $100 million to become a sponsor of the 2012 Olympics, you may have decided your own marketing budget was a little short this time around.

But how does small business tap into the massive online audience that the Olympics will generate without breaking the rules? Read on, my opportunistic friend.

The opportunity

The 2012 London Olympics is being touted as the first truly ‘social games’. For the 2008 Beijing Games, it was the early days for Twitter and Facebook, but this time around it is expected that social media will explode with conversations, opinions, images and well-wishes. A report from Bytemobile estimates that Facebook traffic will increase by 136% and Twitter by 118%.

This represents a huge amount of people online at the one-time, simultaneously sharing the high and lows of the Olympic events together as one big community. Any online marketer worth their salt could see the opportunity to tap into this mass-themed hysteria to gain some traction with their own brand.

The restrictions

However, a large portion of the Olympic Games are privately funded and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) takes it upon itself to protect the rights of their sponsors and to stop other businesses from claiming an association with the Games and benefiting from the goodwill inherent to the brand and the event itself.

For the London Olympics, the IOC (in combination with its local representative LOCOG) have even worked directly with the British Parliament to pass special legislation to protect its trademark properties in a way that goes well beyond what is enshrined in copyright or contract law. It represents a long list of words and graphic devices, including a ban on the use of any two of the following words: ‘Games’, ‘Two thousand and Twelve’, ‘2012’, and ‘Twenty-Twelve’. As well as any one of those words combined with any of the following: ‘London’, ‘Medals’, ‘Sponsors’, Summer’, ‘Gold’, ‘Silver’, ‘Bronze’.

Throughout the world the IOC works with local committees (USOC in the United States, AOC in Australia) to protect a range of trademark words and graphic devices, meaning protected word combinations can vary from country-to-country.

Combine that level of confusion with the geographically ambiguous nature of the social media networks and it becomes obvious that despite their best efforts, the IOC are stuck between the rock of protecting the rights of their sponsors and the hard place of benefiting from the global, free-flowing and community building nature of social media.

Recommended strategies

There is a long tradition of business owners, both big and small, taking advantage of the broad crescendo of excitement that a global event brings. Think of all the shop windows filled with tinsel at Christmas, all the luxury items raking it in over Valentine’s Day and pamper packages on Mother’s Day.

Of course, sporting events are no exception. Buddy Media conducted research that showed brands who referenced the Super Bowl in the weeks leading up to the game received a 60% higher engagement rate on Facebook than posts that made no reference.

I can understand the reasons behind IOC efforts to protect their sponsors around the Games venues where television cameras project inspiring images to the world. However, I don’t believe the online community, including small business, should be restricted from participating in all the excitement even when that participation can result in increased brand awareness.

Am I recommending you give the IOC two fingers and register the domain and start selling dinner plates in the shape and colour of the Olympic rings? Hell, no! I do, however, recommend positively contributing to the huge online community that will appear during the Games and creatively aligning your message to take advantage of the Olympic theme.


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