25th April 2016

Are the ‘Censorship Games’ back?

With the Rio Olympics 2016 (am I allowed to say that?) fast approaching, the official brand protection guidelines are hot on every marketer’s lips.

It’s a global event, marked in all our content calendars that we’d naturally plan to tap into and generally join the #conversation. However this may not be as easy as we thought. The British Olympic Association (BOA) rules state that unless a brand is a commercial partner of Rio 2016, it must not associate with the event in any way.

Who can forget the BBC Radio 4’s Today presenter, Evan Davis, asking Lord Coe in an interview whether he would be allowed to turn up to a 2012 Olympics event in a Pepsi T-shirt, to which Coe replied: ‘No, you probably wouldn’t be walking in with a Pepsi T-shirt because Coca-Cola are our sponsors and they have put millions of pounds into this project, and grassroots sport. It is important to protect those sponsors.’

This is pretty fare-game. But what about mentioning ‘Rio’, ‘2016 Games’, ‘Games 2016’, ‘2016 Olympics’, ‘2016 Summer Olympics’, ‘2016 Paralympics’, ‘Summer 2016’…breath…’Summer Games‘ and the word ‘Games’ alone in any of your marketing ideas and content?  Even capitalizing ‘Games’ or if using the word in connection with summer sports, or other Olympic imagery, could mean danger.

But word association isn’t the only hurdle. Ambush marketing – an attempt by non-sponsors to execute Gorilla activity surrounding the games, is another no no.

Travelling back an Olympiad to July 2012, former International Olympic Committee marketing chief, Michael Payne, criticised the organising committee for ‘scoring an own goal’ over exclusivity rights. He said that the over-zealous rules are ‘suffocating local street traders’, in light of critics dubbing London 2012 the ‘Censorship Games’.

So what does this mean for brands?

In 2012, Irish bookmaker Paddy Power, not an official sponsor London Olympics, organised an egg and spoon race to take place in a French town called London on 1st August – days before the Game’s opening.

The event and integrated marketing campaign kicked off in the last week of July, supported by JCDecaux, was dubbed ‘The Largest Athletics Event in London this Year’.

It wasn’t long before LOCOG (the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games) ordered them to remove the campaign.

Paddy Power however did not back down and prompted their lawyers to take action.

LOCOG backed down straight away, with the battle over within a couple of days, leaving the bookmakers clear winners.


According to reports earlier this year in PR Week, the BOA will be ‘relaxed’ over rules that restrict athlete sponsors’ marketing campaigns during the Rio Olympics. However according to the Times, the BOA has regulations which will ban brands who are not official Olympics or Team GB sponsors retweeting any messages from their athletes, during the Olympic in Brazil.

The ruling goes to show that while the guidelines are there for all to see, in black and white, there remains a grey area. It just depends how brave brands want to be.

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By Melissa Clayton, Consumer Junior Account Manager