Planning on ‘Going for the Gold’ on Social Media During the Olympics? Think Again

by | Aug 5, 2016 | Need to Know, Social Media

Is it just me or have the 2016 Olympics been doomed from day número uno? Let me count the ways.

  1. The hosting city, Rio De Janeiro, can’t handle the capacity of athletes and attendees.
  2. Zika-carrying mosquitos have shown up in the worst way discouraging athletes to attend. (Also, I just heard the golf course is running rampant with 150 lbs. rodents. AH!)
  3. Russian athletes allegedly cheating the system and using illegal performance enhancing drugs and then this…
  4. The U.S. Olympic Committee slapping big ol’ trademarks on its hashtags and everything else social media surrounding the event.

Yes, you read that right.

This ridiculousness has put a huge dent in the marketing mechanics and plans of brands. If you like it, then you can’t put an Olympic ring on it. Wah-oh, oh, oh.

So what’s really going on here? Well, the law has changed and is now allowing brands, companies, and large-scale events to trademark hashtags — real talk.
According to a report from ESPN, the U.S. Olympic Committee sent out a letter which highlights brands who don’t have direct sponsorships in place with the Olympics can’t post about the Olympics due to intellectual copyright restrictions.

The letter says: “Commercial entities may not post about the Trials or Games on their corporate social media accounts. This restriction includes the use of USOC’s trademarks in hashtags such as #Rio2016 or #TeamUSA.”

So yes, it includes hashtags. Overall, it’s an odd case of the law with a lot of gray area to leave up to interpretation. Essentially, if something is a trademark is depends on whether consumers understand it as one. A trademark tells the consumer who sells something or distinguishes a product from the competition. Ex: Starbucks for coffee or The Voice for a singing competition. 

With this in mind, utilizing an official Olympic hashtag seems different than using a brand name… and around a worldwide event where a ton of people are going to be using the tag to join the conversation, which by the way is the point of hashtags in the first place. ::eye roll::
Who can post? Give it to me straight.

  • Individuals 
  • News Outlets/Media
  • Official Olympic Sponsors

Who can’t post?

  • Everyone else

The rest of the businesses out there, including those non-Olympic official sponsors who have athletes in the Games (Think: New Balance, Oiselle and Nike) and the athletes themselves are forced to get creative when joining the Olympic conversation on social media. #Truth. Sponsors and businesses hoping latch on to the soon-to-be trending topic are having to tread lightly in showing support for athletes. Proceeding with caution is a must. The USOC has been known to flex its legal muscles to protect what’s theirs. A rule is a rule and law is a law and there’s no doping around with it. (Sorry! I had to.)

In short, the athletes can mention a non-Olympic sponsor during the games, and a non-Olympic sponsor can support their athlete, they just have to delete the Olympics mentions from their content. Lame sauce. This includes sharing, retweeting, reposting anything from the official Olympics accounts — yes, even if that non-Olympic sponsored athlete wins the gold medal for their event they cannot retweet the official photo of them standing on the podium to their fans (same goes for the sponsor of that athlete). This rule has led to brands getting creative by using “The Big Event” or #TheBigEvent in their content. Me? I just want to create a hashtag like #OlympicsYouDontOwnTheInternet. But alas it would take up too much of the allotted 140 characters. Le sigh.

Want more of the nitty-gritty? AdWeek released all the dos, don’ts and no-way-Jose specifics.