Advertisers that are not official sponsors may take part in the 2016 Summer Olympics for the first time pursuant to a rule change by the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
Previously Rule 40 of the Olympic Charter prohibited nonofficial sponsors from running ads featuring Olympic athletes during a defined blackout period that typically lasted from a few days prior to the opening ceremonies through the end of the games. Lobbying by athletes helped persuade the IOC to change Rule 40 last June. The new rule will allow nonofficial sponsors to feature ads using Olympic athletes during the games upon receiving approval from the IOC, provided that nonsponsors run such advertising continuously starting no later than March 27.
To be eligible to run advertising under the new rule, nonofficial sponsors were required to apply for approval from the IOC by submitting their advertising campaigns with accompanying media schedules by January 27, 2016. While initial submissions did not require a complete list of proposed tactics, the revised rule underscored that "each and every final tactic will require a waiver." The time period allows the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) to approve the ads, ask for changes if necessary, or deny their use.
Despite the rule change, detailed restrictions still apply and the advertisements must be "generic" without language or images that directly associate the brand with the games. The rule bans the use of the word "Olympics" as well as terms such as "summer," "victory," and "effort" in certain contexts. Nonofficial sponsors may describe their athletes as Olympians because such information is biographical, but reference to participation in the games should be "balanced with non-Olympic achievements."
That deadline explains why Under Armour chose to run an already aired commercial featuring members of the women's gymnastics team and why General Mills aired a Wheaties ad with swimmer Missy Franklin and sprinter Allyson Felix. Dozens of other companies have applied to use the waiver, including Adidas AG, Brooks Running, Gatorade, GoPro, and Speedo.
Chief Marketing Officer for the U.S. Olympic Committee Lisa Baird toldReuters that the new rule allows athletes "to continue their long-term promotional relationships with brands, and helps to curtail ambush of our partners." The USOC will be monitoring the nonofficial sponsors for compliance with the changes to Rule 40. "It's a new process, but a process we believe is fair to all parties," Baird added.
To read the IOC's Rule 40 Guidelines, click here.
Why it matters: Talk about a win-win. The updated Rule 40 benefits not just advertisers, but Olympic athletes, the majority of whom are not professional athletes and need the income from endorsement deals, as well as the network airing the 2016 Summer Games (selling even more ads) and the IOC itself. By requiring the ad campaigns to launch four months before the events begin in Rio de Janeiro, the Olympics get the advanced hype courtesy of the nonofficial sponsors, which could in turn result in higher ratings for the games.