Wednesday, August 10, 2016

So Why Have I Crossed Some Words Out?

The 2016 Summer Olympics are upon us – this time in Rio de Janeiro.  The build-up to these Games has been focused as much on concerns over Rio’s readiness, the Zika virus, terrorist threats, contaminated water and the Russian doping scandal, as on the athletes who will be participating and probable medal contenders.  But as the Games open, I become giddy with anticipation – not just for the events, but the back stories of individual athletes and teams—and for the advertising.

Major sporting events bring out some of the best in creativity, but ads associated with the Olympic Games often have the added characteristics of emotion, pathos and goodwill that make them particularly appealing.

Major sporting events always have advertising rules to try to protect sponsors who pay big bucks for preferential treatment in direct and indirect promotional rights.  Enforcement of those rights frequently conflict with news and competing business interests, not to forget the general notion of free speech. 

If you follow the Olympics at all, you are likely aware of the aggressive stance the International Olympic Committee (IOC) takes with respect to its intellectual property – the Olympic rings and their colors, the words “Olympics,” “Olympic Games,” “Olympiads,” “gold,” “silver,” “bronze,” “medal”, etc., including the various words that have been crossed out above.

Only sponsors are authorized to use IOC intellectual property, and the use in advertising, on uniforms and equipment, and in social media differs depending on the level of sponsorship.  Sponsorship levels also determine access to public advertising space in and adjacent to the venues, the sale or promotion of goods and services in and around the venues, and first refusal rights for broadcast advertising time.  

Despite these apparent advantages, sponsors have questioned whether the benefits are worth the high cost.  “Ambush” advertising (ads that associate with the sponsored event without payment of the sponsorship fees) is still prevalent and if an ambush ad is good, can be more effective even without the specific Olympic references or “sponsor” identity.

For example, Adidas paid a lot of money to be the official “Sportswear Partner” of the 2012 London Games.  Its competitor, Nike, paid considerably less for a lower tier sponsorship that entitled them to outfit most of the Brazilian teams, but did not give it rights to use such things as Olympic emblems or marks, Olympic athletes or the city of London in its advertising.  In a clever move, Nike created several short commercials using ordinary people undertaking athletic challenges filmed in various locations named London, but not London, England.  They launched the campaign at the time of the London Games opening ceremony.  The connection was obvious, but didn’t technically violate the IOC advertising rules.  The ads were well done, well-received and perceived to have been more commercially effective with the consuming public than Adidas’ Olympic advertisements.  

The increased use of social media advertising is believed to create more opportunities for ambush advertising, as well as outright violations of IOC advertising restrictions. Add to this a recent relaxation of  the IOC advertising limitations which allows certain pre-existing advertising campaigns to be used under a “deemed consent” and gives sponsors of participating athletes an opportunity to apply for a waiver that allows them to use the Olympian in their advertising.  The catch on the waiver – it had to be applied for prior to January 27, 2016 and the advertising had to commence months before the Games opened, a formidable barrier to small businesses.

While sponsorship value may continue to be a concern, word has it that the media advertising buys for the Rio Games are at an all-time high, believed to be, in part, the result of the considerable news coverage of issues that have plagued Rio’s preparation for the Games.  Whether you watch for pleasure or morbid curiosity, look for the Samsung ad (for its Galaxy S7 Edge) that does a mash-up of portions of different national anthems, sung by persons and in places other than the home of the particular anthem. I’m excited.

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