Telstra forced to change Olympics ad because of official advertising restrictions


Australia’s telecommunications giant Telstra has been forced to alter a recent television advertisement due to associating itself with the Olympics.

As reported by Mumbrella, the advertisement alerts customers to Telstra’s new ‘Olympics on 7’ smartphone and tablet application, which will provide customers with streams of Channel Seven’s Olympics coverage.

The advertisement is set to a modern version of Peter Allen’s song ‘I Go To Rio’, and shows a number of customers using the app to watch various Olympic events. Telstra also launched a page on its website alerting users to the availability of the app.

The advertisement concluded with Telstra claiming it was the “Official technology partner of Seven’s Olympic Games coverage”.

The ad was up for less than a week before being taken down, with legal letters reportedly traded between the Australian Olympic Committee and Telstra.

Since then, Telstra has updated their website and advertisement to note that “Telstra is not an official sponsor of the Olympic Games, any Olympic Committees or teams”. This tagline runs along the bottom of the new version of the ad.

The International Olympics Committee has strict laws on advertising and marketing in relation to the Olympics, imposing fines on brands that claim sponsorship of the Games without paying for the rights. The IOC refers to this as “ambush marketing” and enforces the rules to protect the companies who have paid the expensive premium to be an official Olympic sponsor.

The IOC will also impose a blackout period from July 27 to August 24, which prevents non-sponsors from using Olympians names or pictures in advertising during the period. Telstra’s advertisement fell outside of the bounds of this blackout.

The IOC recently changed ‘Rule 40’ in its Olympic Charter, which dictated how athletes and athlete sponsors could promote using the Olympics. Previously, Rule 40 prevented non-official sponsors from endorsing or featuring sponsored athletes in their marketing, and athletes could not discuss those sponsors either.

Changes in February this year now allow athletes to feature in non-specific advertising from those sponsors, as long as they do not mention the Olympics, Rio, or terms like “games”, “gold” or “2016”. Athletes can also now tweet about sponsors in a similar capacity.

Telstra has previously been an official telecommunications sponsor of the Olympics in Australia, having signed a 20-year deal with the Australian Olympic Committee for the Barcelona Olympic in 1992.

The conclusion of that deal means that the sponsorship was up for grabs, and rival telco Optus signed on for a 10-year deal with the AOC.

Narissa Corrigan, advertising expert and lawyer at Ampersand Legal, told SmartCompany for marketers, getting past the IOC’s advertising restrictions is “very tricky”

“The IOC is very vigilant when protecting their trademarks due to its deals with sponsors, they protect the rights and the image of the Olympic brand,” Corrigan says.

“Advertisers have tried to circumvent the restrictions through using the rings colours, and using words to describe the Olympics, but they still get caught.”

Corrigan says businesses should be wary of linking themselves with the Olympics, as the IOC keeps “a very close eye” on what businesses are doing, especially in the lead up to the games.

“If you don’t have an affiliation, avoid saying or implying you do,” Corrigan says.

“Social media is still considered advertising, so that won’t get you off the hook.”

Corrigan says using colours like green and gold, or saying ‘Go Aussies’ won’t incur the IOC’s wrath, as they are very generic.

“There are certainly words you can use that don’t reference the brand, and they might get you around the regulations.”

A Telstra spokesperson told SmartCompany “the advertising is still running in market.”

“We have updated it to make it clear that Telstra is not an official sponsor of the Olympic Games, the Australian Olympic team or of the Australian or International Olympic Committees,” the spokesperson says.


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