It’s nothing new. Throughout the history of the Olympics, the Olympic brand has been heavily guarded and its use tightly controlled. As have been the Olympic sponsors. But in the age of social media, has it become more difficult for the Olympic brand and the Olympic sponsors to protect their rights and control their message? This year the Olympics are being called the “first social media Olympics” and in an effort to protect the Olympic brand and the sponsors and to add an element of control, officials have set in place stringent restrictions that affect everyone from the Olympic ticket holders to the athletes.

The Olympic brand and its logo, the Olympic rings, are one of the most widely recognized and important brands in the word. According to the Olympic organization media guide, the Olympic brand values are as follows: Excellence, Friendship and Respect. They were established more than a century ago in The Olympic Charter. It is because of these values, its history, unique brand persona and its power of influence that other brands look to align themselves with the Olympic brand.

Being an Olympic sponsor is one of the most prestigious titles that a brand can attain. This year, global brand leaders such as P&G, Visa, McDonald’s, Samsung and Coca Cola lead the way as the top brands with Olympic prowess. As sponsors, they receive exclusive marketing rights and a much-coveted association with the Olympic brand. What does this mean? Well, you probably won’t see a non-sponsor ad running during broadcasts, you won’t hear anyone speak about it and you certainly won’t see an athlete Tweet about it.

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When it comes to social media, in an effort to protect themselves and the Olympic sponsors, the Olympic committee has put together a very detailed policy that applies to athletes. No one is allowed to speak about a brand that isn’t a sponsor. Period.  Even ticket holders are held against regulations – there is a legal ban on spectators uploading their personal photos of the games on social media sites.

Some social media sites such as Twitter are actually working with Olympic sponsors and the Olympic brand in an attempt to ensure exclusivity and brand protection. In an effort to the control the message, Twitter is also said to be working with Olympic officials to stop anyone other than the sponsors from buying and promoting tweets with hashtags such as #London2012. However, that’s not to say that they are banning Olympic-related campaigns by non-sponsors altogether. In fact Nike, who is not an official sponsor, is planning to run a Promoted Tweet campaign during the Olympics in order to capitalize on the Olympic conversation.

It’s safe to say that regulating Twitter use and controlling the message is going to, no doubt, be a challenge for the Olympic brand officials and the sponsors – the beauty of social media is that anyone is free to speak their mind. This discussion begs the question around control and effectiveness. Do you think the Olympic efforts to try and have as much control as possible over social media will be effective? How are their activities different from what other, unrelated, brands are doing?

During this year’s Olympics we’ll be doing a series of blogs that speak to the event, brands and sports. Stay tuned and join the conversation!



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