The Olympics are in full swing, and if you’re a marketer looking to get a piece of the action: listen up. You don’t need to be a sponsored partner to boost your brand awareness during the games.

For real.

To be sure, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has stringent rules in place that affect everyone but official sponsors — including the athletes themselves.

And the U.S. Olympic Committee makes it as difficult as possible for non-sponsored companies to legally get a piece of the action. As Adweek explains, "it has ironclad regulations, backed by U.S. trademark law, that restrain nonsponsoring brands from saying anything even vaguely evocative of the Olympics. A casual mention of Rio on Facebook? A congratulatory tweet to a gold medalist? Even tweeting the term 'gold medal'? Don't do it."

So benefiting from Olympic buzz won’t be easy for anyone other than companies who can afford the reported $100 million to $200 million it costs to be an official Olympic sponsor.

But it can be done. Here's how you can leverage the Olympics without violating the rules.

Use Content to Increase Exposure

Savvy marketers see the value in using content marketing to boost their brand awareness. Increase your online presence with relevant, engaging content. As long as you don’t use banned words or Olympic themes, you’ll stay in the IOC’s good graces.

Instead, focus on producing relevant content that will engage not only viewers who are watching solely because it’s the Olympics, but those who also have a vested interest in the actual sports, too.

Some ways to engage your audience are: 

Create Sponsored Content. Follow BuzzFeed’s lead and create a sponsored content listicle. Depending on the retailer, a shoe store could share “5 Sneakers That Stand the Test of Time” which would resonate well not only with Olympic runners, but runners in general.

Share Others’ Content. Build trust with your consumers by sharing other people’s content. Let’s say you’re a company that offers tumbling lessons. Perhaps you read a solid article on improving your tumbling technique, don’t forget to share it.

Produce Mobile Videos. Video accounts for 52 percent of all mobile traffic, and interactive videos provide higher engagement. Depending on your industry, get in on the action and produce a relevant niche marketing video to draw viewers in.  

Write Blog Posts. Connect with your audience and establish yourself as a thought-leader in your industry with blog posts. If you’re a retailer who sells athletic apparel, perhaps write a blog post like “Top 3 Moisture Wicking Shirts for Runners.”  

Leverage Social Engagement

According to a report by RadiumOne, more than half of people are likely to share content about the Olympics during an event, and after an event.

Once you have developed your content, be sure to employ a real-time social strategy. Let’s say you’re a retailer who wants to share a sponsored listicle on ways cyclists can increase energy naturally. The retailer would be smart to time their social shares during the actual event. 

To effectively target their ideal audience, marketers will need to employ cross-platform targeting, demographic targeting and geotargeting.

Cross-Platform Targeting. Timing (and location) is everything. And depending on what time the event is on, your audience may be on their desktop at work, on their tablet at home, or on their phone at the bar. Make sure your ads and content are always readable across all devices at all times.

Demographic Targeting. Like with most things, men and women’s interests vary, and the Olympics are no different. For instance, according to the graphic below, women are more engaged in gymnastics than men.

Geotargeting strategies

Source: Marketing Week

Here, it would make sense for marketers to push gymnast-related content geared toward women instead of men during times when gymnastic competitions are airing.

Geotargeting. The Olympics are taking place in South America, and for many, that will have a significant time-change impact. If your company sells aquatic equipment, but the swimmers are competing at midnight, it wouldn’t make sense to schedule your pay-per-click (PPC) ads during the actual event. Let’s face it; your target audience will be sleeping. Instead, you may want to wait until they recap the event the next day, to schedule your ads.

Err on the Side of Caution With Promotions

While giveaways and discounts foster engagement, they also open you up to potential violations.

It might seem like a great idea to promote an all expenses paid trip to Rio, or a jersey signed by an Olympian, but if you’re caught breaking the rules; it’s game over. The same applies to Olympic-related hashtags.

Learning Opportunities

So if your business can find a way to host BOGO pizza specials while the Olympics are on, without saying it’s an Olympic takeout special, go for it. But remember, the Olympic regulatory bodies are always watching. And they're not just watching marketers: They're watching Olympians, too.

American swimmer Michael Phelps got called out for not completely covering up all of the logos on his Beats by Dre headphones. Here, in this photo by Business Insider, you can see the “rogue” label.

Michael Phelps at the Rio Olympic games

Source: MSN

Follow. The. Rules.

Like any good hacker, if you’re going to hack IOC marketing, you better know the rules.

The IOC considers ambush marketing to be the use of any logos, images or themes associated with the Olympics by anyone other than an approved sponsor or partner. Unless you can afford to pay hefty fines, be cautious about:

Rio Themes. From color schemes to logos to fonts, avoid using official Rio themes in your marketing materials and merchandise. To you, a green and gold towel with the words Olympics 2016 is great, but to the IOC, you’ve just violated the rules. Make sure you visit for a complete overview of all themes.

Rio 2016 Brand Protection Guidelines. The 54-page guide, addresses every potential branding issue that may arise. For instance, if you’re a brand whose spokesperson is American swimmer Ryan Lochte, guess what? Unless you’re a sponsor, you’re not allowed to feature his name, voice or likeness in in any advertising until after the Olympics.

This means no Snapchats of Lochte wearing your Speedos, tweets of him endorsing your “cupping therapy” or YouTube video ads of him singing the praises of your goggles.

Intellectual Property. Naturally the IOC's intellectual property includes logos, symbols and mascots. But it also extends to official expressions and designations, among other things. Study this image provided in the official branding guide so you know what is and isn’t intellectual property.

Rio Olympic games


Banned Words. Not surprisingly the IOC has an actual official list of banned words. They range from specific (e.g. Olympics, Olympic, Olympians) to generic (e.g. effort, games, victory). Stay on the IOC’s good side and make sure your Facebook posts, tweets, etc. don’t include any of these banned words. 

Keep an eye out because the rules are ever changing. In fact, a couple days before the opening ceremony the IOC decided to ban GIFs.

The IOC doesn’t play around. But so long as you abide by the rules and follow these tips, you can Go for the Gold — err, let's make that "reap the rewards" — of a well-deserved Olympic marketing boost.

Title image by Agberto Guimaraes

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