Why Strict Social Media Rules for Rio 2016 Shouldn’t Surprise You

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  • August 12, 2016
  • Abby O'Connor

Social media managers everywhere rolled their eyes when news broke that a lengthy list of Olympic trademarks, including a few hashtags, are off limits to any business not officially sponsoring the Games. “Olympic, “Team USA,” “Rio 2016” and everything in between is restricted. Hopes of brands chiming in on the Olympic social chatter were dashed for those not attempting to skirt around #TheBigEvent or the #RoadtoReeyo.

You can’t recreate the Olympic rings in the style of your company logo or poll your Twitter followers about which athlete they hope will take home gold, and that’s frustrating. I get it. But we should probably get used to it.

As social media has evolved, it’s become more and more commercial in nature. The barrage of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and even Snapchat ads you encounter on a daily basis probably clued you into that. And yet we tend to think that anything goes on social. That it’s a new frontier not governed by the rules of every other commercial space.

Now, the USOC is bringing to light what’s been true for quite some time: trademark law applies to social media. You’d never slap a Coca-Cola logo onto your products or advertise your services with the slogan, “Just Do It.” Well, the Olympics is no different.

As much as we all love to frame the Games as a universal celebration of sport, at the end of the day, much of Team USA is funded by ad dollars. In order for brands like McDonald’s, P&G, and Visa to get the biggest bang for their buck, the USOC has to promise them that they’ll be the only ones profiting from #Rio2016. It’s lame, I know. But unless Congress wakes up one morning feeling unusually generous, big-budget brands will continue to rule the Olympic schoolyard.

These rules may be a bummer for you or your client who hoped to use the Games for leveraging social network growth. And I know everyone hates the “it could be worse” argument. But the real tragedy falls on smaller brands that support lesser-known athletes during the other three years and 11 months of every Olympic cycle. They can’t afford to be an official sponsor, and now they can’t publicly cheer on the athletes who they helped send to Rio. Or should I say Reeyo?

So while you have to avoid using the #Rio2016 hashtag (and any other words that could be construed as direct references to the Games), don’t let frustration with the USOC get the best of you. Be creative. Engage with people. Use the heck out of that ‘Like’ button. But don’t break the law, it’s just not worth it.