Unofficial Marketing Medalists of the Rio Olympics

When it came to marketing around the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio there were two camps: official sponsors and unofficial sponsors. Unlike other events like the Super Bowl or World Cup where every brand gets in on the action, there’s a very clear division between the two during the Olympics.

This is the result of the Olympic Committee’s controversial rule 40, which prohibits athletes from talking about non-official sponsors during the games (even if they have sponsored them) and non-sponsor brands from talking about the Olympics at all—including using phrases like “go for the gold”.

It’s an odd rule for our modern social world, and one that seems to have stifled all the marketing fun we usually get around big events. It made the marketing around the Rio Olympics a real letdown. In a field of big national or worldwide marketing events, this one didn’t even come close to placing.

And still there were some bright spots, with some nice marketing efforts emerging that alluded to the games without specifically mentioning them. Here are our unofficial Olympic marketing medal winners.

Awarding Bronze, Silver & Gold Medals for the Best Unofficial Olympic Marketing Efforts

These powerful marketing efforts all came to play and delivered the goods (even if they couldn’t actually say the word “Olympics”)…

BRONZE: Internet Memes

OK, so this one’s not actually a specific “marketing effort”. But with the social buzz lacking for this Olympics, the high point may be all the great memes sparked by the Rio games. Not that memes weren’t big on the web before, but they really flexed their muscle during the Olympics

We got a lot of these…

and these…

If it wasn’t for the Olympic committee’s restrictions, brands would’ve contributed some fantastic viral memes as well.

BRONZE: Oiselle

Back in early July, this maker of women’s running apparel (and sponsor of Olympians) got slapped by the Olympic Committee for using trademarked Olympic images and terms in an Instagram post. But that didn’t stop them from posting on social about the “big event”, standing up against rule 40, and having a little fun.

Founder & CEO Sally Bergensen, referred to the games as the “South American Rodeo” in this tweet:

And the brand posted this rally to fans about the “Big Event…with the Five Circles in the Southern Hemisphere” on it’s Instagram page:

SILVER: Gatorade’s “The Boy Who Learned to Fly”

This elaborate animated short film (two minutes of closing credits exhibit the work that went into it) shows Usain Bolt’s journey into the fastest man in the world. Bolt was the biggest star of this Olympics, and this video reflects his fun, lighthearted image with the message: “You can always go faster when you keep it light”.

The video evokes the Olympics a ton without ever actually referencing it. A particularly nice touch is instead of using the Olympic logo at a big event, they use the Gatorade logo.

GOLD:  Under Armour “Rule Yourself” Video

Under Armour, a fairly big brand which reportedly sponsors 250 Olympic athletes, wasn’t an official Olympic sponsor. That means they had to adhere to the no Olympic images or references rule. And yet they still created the most memorable ad of the Olympics featuring one of the games biggest stars, Michael Phelps.

The powerful spot, showing Phelps’ grueling training regiment, has been viewed over 11 million times on YouTube. According to this article, the ad is the “second most shared of the 2016 Olympics, and the fifth most shared Olympic spot ever”.

If you ask most people if Under Armour was an official Rio Olympics sponsor, they would probably say yes. With the Olympic Committee’s tight restrictions, that’s a clear victory.

GOLD: The Rule 40 Cause Marketing Campaign

The best and most important marketing campaign to come out of the Olympics.

This effort includes a central website (rule40.com) set up by Brooks, a maker of running shoes and sports apparel, which provides info and resources to help athletes draw attention to the unfairness and ridiculousness of the rule without actually breaking it.

Examples include images to share on social like this one:

Rule 40 Olympics

And the site even sells apparel:

Rule 40 t-shirt

All in all, a necessary effort to draw attention to an important cause and hopefully bring about real change.

Listen to our podcast discussion of rule 40 and our 2016 Rio Summer Olympics marketing medalists:

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AUTHOR: Shad Connelly
ORIGIN: Communications Director @ MONSTERS Unlimited

Follow Shad on Speaking Human  /  Human Content from Shad





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