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Engaging social media audiences around the Winter Olympics

22 February 2018 | 10:00 am

All marketers know the Olympics is a well guarded commercial entity, however, the Games can present a great opportunity to engage and grow digital audiences via social.

Blog post image 22Feb2018.pngIn 2014 the advertising spend for the Winter Olympics stood at an all time high of $977 million. However, things seem destined for change in the future with some of the biggest Olympic sponsors of old like P&G and General Motors cutting their Ad spend around major events as they move to a more digital, social and targeted approach.

As a result, the Wall Street Journal reports that digital advertising spend for the Pyeonchang Games will fall to $900 but of interest is that 60% will be from new types of brands, indicating many new entrants into the sporting landscape and a considerable percentage of this spend being invested in social channels like Facebook.

Today, digital users are the biggest advocates for the Games. Just one week in and 1,316,947 people have mentioned Pyeongchang (Netimperative), and 22.4k people have mentioned official sponsors. Yet due to the ever increasing use of social to promote the Olympics, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) have been forced to put a policy in place to ensure only the brands paying for the privilege are being acknowledged in connection with the games.

To combat the issue of ambush marketing, IOC introduced Rule 40. First seen in Rio 2016, the rule means unofficial sponsors of the games have to apply for approval of their campaigns. As a result, the athletes who had not officially qualified for the Games by the campaign review cut off date, were left out of the official ad campaigns.

In addition, the athletes operate under very strict restrictions with embargoes in place on the build up to and during the Games to prevent them from giving away additional value to organisations who have not paid the official (and hefty) price tag. IOC rule 40 places significant trust on those representing teams at the Games not to breach the rule by tweeting or sharing posts from their own personal portfolio of sponsors. It also prevents commercial entities using hashtags like #Olympics #GoingForGold and even those who are seen to thank or congratulate athletes are seen to be skating on thin ice around the issue.

That said, there will always be examples of brands who find a way to get around the rules. The most famous pre-digital was seen during the 1996 Summer Olympics with Reebok paying a reported $50 Million dollars to be an official sponsor. Yet Nike ended up being the star attraction at the Games, with some clever product placement, having provided the ‘fastest man in the world’ with shoes seen by millions of people on TV and the location of their Nike Centre alongside the athletes village as well as handing out Nike Flags for people attending the games. Although Nike got some criticism for their approach on the basis that it was not in the spirit of the Olympics’, it still to this day is one of the most remembered ambush marketing campaigns of its time.

Many are looking at creative and innovative ways to promote themselves across social media without landing themselves in trouble legally. This has involved the use of ‘clean’ hashtags – i.e. those that are not deemed out of bounds under the protection of the Games rules and creative imagery to imply and depict the rings without actually being the official logo. This has led to the creation of generic terms for major events like the NFL described as ‘the Big Game’ to allow brand to have conversation without fear of legal action heading their way.

So if you are looking to have a part of the Games conversation think:

1) Competition will be high, as will the consequences of getting it wrong, so evaluate what you are about to do and check that it complies with Rule 40.

2) Look for unique emotional & humorous moments – marketing moments are very powerful – ironically brought into the spotlight at the Super Bowl with the now famous Orio content which was posted in minutes. Humorous things often grab attention such as Freddie Flintoff falling backwards over a speaker at the T20 cricket finals day in Edgbaston gaining considerable more views than some of the cricket itself.

3) Add value – the audience who are watching will appreciate you giving them some added unique content so think facts and figures around the athletes.

4) Forget trying to engage / distract athletes – they will not bite and if they do they could be in a serious amount of trouble which is not good ultimately for your brand.

5) Keep it simple – the simplest is always the best!

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