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Marketing & Sales
Aug 15, 2016

Digital Marketing During The Olympics

Sponsored Content provided by Mike Duncan - CEO and Creative Director, Sage Island

The Summer Olympics are finally here. Along with fierce competition, amazing athletes and inspiring stories, the Olympics are also a great backdrop for winning marketing campaigns. For the next few weeks, #Rio2016 will be the ultimate trending topic.

I may not be able to swim as fast as Michael Phelps or execute a flawless floor routine like Simone Biles, you might think, but my hashtag game is unbeatable. Let the games begin!

Not so fast.

As it turns out, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has some strict rules when it comes to social media and digital marketing. According to the IOC’s official guidelines, participants and other “accredited people” are encouraged to “take part in social and digital media and to share their experiences with their friends, family and supporters.” The catch? These “accredited people” can’t use social or digital media for any commercial and/or advertising purposes in a way that would imply the two are directly associated.

This may seem counterintuitive. After all, hashtags, retweets and trending topics are free advertising, and businesses and brands generally have a farther reach than individual fans. Why then would the Olympics want to limit what businesses can say about the Games in their digital spaces? Because it makes being an official sponsor much more valuable.

If you’re a business that pays to play, such as McDonald’s, Procter & Gamble and Visa, you get exclusive rights to these keywords and phrases. If you’re not an official sponsor, then including the following in your ads and posts during the Olympics blackout period (July 27-Aug. 24) is off limits: Olympics, 2016, Team USA, Road to Rio, games, gold and even “Let the games begin.” You can check out Adweek for the full list.

Break the rules and you could get a cease-and-desist letter. In some cases, the IOC could even take legal action against your business. Oops.

Of course, it would be a shame to let the Games go by without contributing something to the conversation, whether it’s wishing a favorite athlete good luck or celebrating a record-breaking win. If you’re a small business or brand that would like to say something despite these restrictions, there are a few ways to be part of the conversation without breaking the rules. 

Get Creative

Oiselle, a women’s fitness apparel company, has come up with a way to talk about the Olympics without infringing on copyright laws. Instead of using any of the words and phrases on the no-fly list, it’s using hashtags such as #TheBigEvent.

Oiselle is also leveraging its brand ambassadors (a small army of 400 people) to talk about the Olympics on its behalf, since the IOC’s rules apply to brands and not people. This helps Oiselle keep its brand in the conversation, which is important, especially since the company helps sponsor some of the Olympic athletes.

Live In The Moment

Do you remember the famous tweet from Oreo during the 2013 Super Bowl? If not, allow me to refresh your memory. The power went out during the game—completely unexpected and clearly not planned—but Oreo was ready. The brand sent out a tweet, complete with a clever image, that read, “Power out? No problem. You can still dunk in the dark.” It was retweeted more than 16,000 times, went down in Twitter history as a win and never even mentioned the Super Bowl, though everyone knew immediately what Oreo was doing.

You can follow this model during the Olympics by alluding to things happening in the Games, especially ones during which emotions are key. For example, when Michael Phelps snags his 25th gold medal, your business could safely tweet something about the number 25, along with a GIF of Scrooge McDuck swimming in a pool of gold coins, and be fine. Just remember that with this kind of post, timing is everything.

Head To Snapchat

Because videos posted to Snapchat (and as of last week, Instagram Stories) disappear after 24 hours, they’re harder to police and offer a bit more flexibility. Ford has been using Snapchat in particular to talk about and celebrate the Olympics in a veiled manner.

The car company recently released a series of Snaps that feature people using their Fords in athletic ways—a weightlifter putting boxes in the back of an SUV, for example. The name of the campaign? Life is a Sport. While it’s not directly about the Olympics and doesn’t break any of the rules, it’s clearly inspired by the Games.

Remember The Golden Rule

When it comes to digital marketing, the golden rule to remember is that anything and everything you post should focus on one thing—your audience. Before you pull out your hair trying to get around the IOC’s rules, ask yourself whether your audience needs to hear about the Olympics from you.

If you’re a fitness brand, travel agency, nutrition supplement or an apparel company, then yes. The Olympics are probably relevant to your brand, and your audience would welcome anything clever or useful you could add to the conversation. If you’re part of an industry that doesn’t have a natural connection to the Games, or if you’re not well-versed enough in that world to make your posts convincing, well, your excitement about Katie Ledecky might not matter as much.

If that’s the case, I give you permission to enjoy the next few weeks the way most of us will—as a spectator. If, on the other hand, you want to enlist the help of a marketing agency to help you come up with the perfect plan for a trending topic, during the Olympics and beyond, contact the team at Sage Island. We specialize in winning strategies that will turn your business into an industry champ.

Mike Duncan co-founded Sage Island in 1997 and since then has evolved the agency’s scope to include marketing strategy, creative design, technical development and a wide range of digital marketing services. With an integrated approach that leverages the power and measurability of the internet, the savvy Sage Island team develops strategies, builds brands, writes killer copy and delivers to clients all over the world. And they have an awesome time doing it. Sage’s collaborative working environment keeps creativity and innovation at the heart of the concept. With a 17-year history in Wilmington and beyond, Sage Island shows no signs of slowing down. To learn how Sage Island can grow your business, check us out at To stay updated on the latest in digital marketing, follow Sage Island on Facebook at, and on Twitter at Island.

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