Getting it right on the road to Rio

With 100 days to go until the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, brands must know their rights – and wrongs. IPM legal counsel Hina Parmar outlines a simple reminder.

Getting it right on the road to Rio

The Olympic and Paralympic Games take place just once every four years, attracting 206 nations competing in over 800 events.

The 2012 Games received over 99,000 hours of TV coverage, across 500 stations and 220 territories, drawing a total of 3.6 billion viewers. It was also covered online 24 hours a day with 8.5 billion views. The size and scale of this event, and its international pedigree, means it’s easy to see why brands would want to access this audience.

With exactly 100 days to go until Rio 2016 kicks off, it is key that all sport marketers ensure that the promotional techniques they use – be that ambush marketing, team and individual sponsorship, brand associations, or other promotional marketing activities – don’t break the very rigorous and well established tournament rules, or indeed transgress broader accepted industry rules of engagement.

Below are our top ten tips to make sure you do not get on the wrong side of the organising committees:


1. Use of official marks

This is quite an obvious one but any use of registered trademarks such as ‘Olympics’, ‘Olympic Games’ or logos such as the Olympic rings will always set alarm bells ringing if you are not an official sponsor.


2. Giving away tickets for promotional purposes

The sponsors of major sporting events part with a lot of cash to be officially affiliated with major sporting events, and therefore gain the rights to talk about the tournaments in their marketing as well as potentially give away tickets as part of a promotion. The rights holders will therefore not take too kindly to other brands trying to piggyback on to the event without paying for the pleasure. Giving away tickets as part of a promotion if you are not an official sponsor is a complete no-no.


3. Use of athletes without permission

Between 27th July and 24th August, Olympic athletes are subject to ‘Rule 40’ which prohibits them from appearing in any advertising unless authorised by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). You should therefore tread carefully if you want to use an image of an athlete in your marketing during this period as they could get in a lot of trouble, and could ultimately be disqualified from competing. If your client is adamant, a safe bet would be either to engage them before this period, or opt for an athlete that is not taking part in the 2016 Games (also see points 8 and 9).

If your client is thinking about using an athlete in their campaign, they should also consider whether it amounts to ‘passing off’. Although there is no specific right to your own image in UK, an athlete could still have a case for ‘passing off’ if they are able to prove they had a significant reputation, and the public were confused by thinking the particular athlete had somehow endorsed the brand.


4. Social media is not exempt!

You may think that a tweet from a brand using hashtags such as #TeamGB would be innocent enough. However, depending on the context, this could also fall foul of the laws.


5. Using safe language

Using generic terms such as ‘soccer’ or ‘football’ in isolation will allow brands to link indirectly to the event without the legal consequences but, remember, words like ‘the Olympics’ are not considered as generic terms.



6. Nationalistic theme

There is nothing stopping your client from running a themed promotion to take advantage of the added interest in the host countries. ‘Win a Brazilian cooking lesson’ would work really well. Alternatively, you can show your support for Team GB with a British/English theme provided you do not use the official marks or any protected terms or directly imply support.


7. Win a holiday

As with the nationalistic theme, offering a holiday to a host country is absolutely fine as long as you are not giving away tickets to the event (point 2) or referencing official marks.


8. Support your local Bolt

Events like the Olympics encourage spectators to get off the couch and enjoy sport for themselves. Smart brands run promotions with local clubs and athletes to benefit from sporting summers.


9. Hiring a sporting ambassador not involved in the event

A known sports star who is not featuring in the Olympics will be given more leeway than an athlete who will be competing this summer. They may be able to feature in adverts about their sport as long as the ad has no association with the upcoming sporting event.


10. What is the overall impression created?

Ultimately this is down to common sense! If someone is looking at the campaign and is confused as to whether it is officially affiliated with the respective events, it is likely to raise alarm bells with the rights holders. If there is just a minor reference to the event to take advantage of the added interest in sport this summer, this is unlikely to be as much of a risk.


At recent sporting events, edgy brands have tried to circumnavigate established sponsor protocols through cheeky ambush work – such as the now infamous Bavarian beer orange dress stunt at the Fifa World Cup in 2010. Many of these attempts have been very quickly quashed – in fact Paddy Power had deliberately sought to incite complaints in it 2014 World Cup ‘shave the rainforest’ approach.

Brand damage can be significant from falling foul of complaints. So if you are planning an ambush or indeed any promotional work hooked on Rio or another major sporting event, make sure you consider what you are trying to achieve, if you’re willing to risk legal action, and what the potential PR consequences could be before launching anything.

Hina Parmar is legal counsel at the Institute of Promotional Marketing (IPM), which offers a legal advice service to all members and non-members looking to undertake promotional activity around any sporting event, so if you’d like more advice – please do not hesitate to get in touch.