Five things communicators should look for during Rio 2016

by Kathryn Chappell, FleishmanHillard

Published on
August 9, 2016

In another insights article from our global affiliate FleishmanHillard, Kathryn Chappell, a brand marketing and corporate and internal communication specialist, outlines the five key issues that marketers should be keeping their eye on during this Olympic Games.

With only hours remaining until the first medals are handed out, Rio 2016 is coming into focus as the center of the world’s attention. This is expected to be the most-marketed Games of all-time. In the crowded landscape of 306 events, nearly 5,000 medals, 6,000 hours of Olympic TV programming domestically and countless sponsors globally, what should communicators keep their eyes on?

1. How Brands Navigate Rule 40

This is by far the hottest marketing topic. The rule states that “no competitor, coach, trainer or official who participates in the Olympic Games may allow his person, name, picture or sports performances to be used for advertising purposes during the Olympic Games.” Previously, this meant non-Olympic sponsors could not use Olympic terms or refer to the Olympics in any way during the blackout period. However, restrictions were relaxed ahead of Rio in an effort to provide more rights to athletes.

In the new format, during the Rio blackout period of July 27 – August 24, non-sponsors can feature Olympic athletes they sponsor in ads if they’ve submitted and received approval on a Rule 40 waiver, but even then cannot directly tie their brand to the Olympics. Additionally, their campaigns are contingent upon approval by the National Olympic Committees in the countries in which they will activate the program. Athletes face similar restrictions on social media around mentions of their non-Olympic sponsors, and the USOC serves as the enforcement arm of the International Olympic Committee in the U.S.

The rule was created to protect the rights of Olympic sponsors and minimize opportunities for ambush marketing, a now common tactic where non-sponsors attempt to insert themselves into the conversation around a major event.

This year, Under Armour’s “Rule Yourself” campaign featuring Michael Phelps has risen to the top as an example of a brand successfully navigating Rule 40 in lieu of ambush marketing. It launched its campaign in March with an ad featuring the swimmer. On the ground in Rio, Under Armour has established its footprint along the famous Copacabana beach, home to beach volleyball and some of the best views of Rio. They’ve installed pop-up gyms on the sand, and plenty more is expected from the brand in the coming weeks.

Under Armour won’t be alone – as the Games get underway, expect to see many brands attempt to walk the fine line through in-market activations and athlete sponsorships.

2. The Power of Social Media

Let’s face it – every Games from now on will be the “biggest” when it comes to social media because the landscape expands to dominate more of our world every day. However, that doesn’t make it any less interesting to watch how social media will influence the world’s Rio 2016 experience.

Plus, with only a one-hour time difference from the east coast, many Americans will be watching the Games live. Conversation on social will happen in real-time, leading to more engagement with the Games.

3.The Evolution of Sentiment Toward Rio 2016

Every Olympic Games has its challenges, and Rio 2016 has faced intense scrutiny from global media. Historically, the narrative shifts once the Games begin. Instead of infrastructure and security, the world is captivated by athlete performance, medal counts and feel-good stories.

Will Rio follow the same pattern? A lot hangs in the balance during the next few days as the spotlight shifts to the Opening Ceremony and early competition.

4. Brand Storytelling

As sponsors kick their campaigns into full gear tomorrow with the start of the Games, a hot topic will be which brands are breaking through the clutter. Just being a sponsor isn’t enough. A major key for brands is to build a compelling narrative and bring it to life in an engaging way.

Integrated campaigns that tell these stories traditionally rise to the top. As sponsor activations begin and reactions abound, take a close look at the campaigns that resonate with you. It will be no surprise to find that the best performers have a clear and compelling narrative that shines through in the brands’ activations.

5. The Rise of the Athlete Voice

The Olympics has become a behemoth event and, surprisingly, one group that often has the quietest voice is the athletes themselves. Despite the entire event hinging on their commitment to a sport and their performance at the Games, it’s uncommon to hear from them in non-branded capacities.

This year, the perfect storm of social media and the seemingly endless cycle of media around the Games has given athletes a stronger platform, and they’re using it to speak up about sport or social issues.

Athletes such as Michael Phelps have taken a strong stance on doping. Gender equality has become a focus for media, and many athletes have called attention to delegations such as the U.S. and Australia that will field more female athletes than male. And, most poignantly, a team of refugees will compete in the Games under the Olympic flag. Hearing their stories has shined a direct light on an important issue that could easily get lost in the bright lights of such a global event. This trend could easily grow and lead to big media moments during the Games.

The 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio officially began with the Opening Ceremony on August 5. We’ll be watching.

This article was originally published at Five Things Communicators Should Look For During Rio 2016.