A few weeks ago, we wrote here about the risks of using in advertising and promotions the Olympic trademarks, symbols or marks that may suggest an association with the Olympic Games. The Olympic Committee recently demonstrated just how serious it is about its marks, sending a letter to non-Olympic sponsor companies, warning them that they “may not post about the Trials or Games on their corporate social media accounts,” and may not use the “USOC’s trademarks in hashtags such as #Rio2016 or #TeamUSA” (presumably to protect the investments of Olympic sponsors). According to ESPN, which obtained a copy of the letter, it goes on to say that a “company whose primary mission is not media-related cannot reference any Olympic results, cannot share or repost anything from the official Olympic account and cannot use any pictures taken at the Olympics.” Apparel company Oiselle tested the waters earlier this month by posting a photo of athlete Kate Grace after winning the 800 meters at the trials, and was promptly contacted by USOC with a request to remove the pictures (the company opted to leave the pictures up but blurred any Olympic imagery). So while media companies have some wiggle room to cover the news from Rio, non-media companies are essentially on an Olympic-sized lockdown.
This restrictive stance did not go unnoticed by comedian Stephen Colbert, who earlier this week took the Olympic Committee to the mat with a biting parody that pokes fun at the Committee’s militant protection of its trademarks. Colbert’s routine, available here, cleverly turns the Olympic rings into five interlocking CBS symbols and introduces the show’s new summer sponsor, MUSA TEA. After explaining that the tea is brewed “from the freshest mint in Morocco’s Musa mountains,” he encourages fans to share with family and friends by using the hashtag #TEAMUSA.
Funny as it is, Colbert illustrates what we have written about many times before, that terms like the OLYMPICS®, SUPER BOWL® (check out Colbert’s take on that here), and MARCH MADNESS® are protected under trademark law, and attempts to use them in commercials or promotions, or to otherwise imply that a product or program is officially associated with one of these events can get a broadcaster into legal trouble. So sit back, enjoy the games, and sip some MUSA TEA – but take an extra swig of caution before referencing the Olympics on your social media sites and on your other media properties in connection with advertising and promotions.