The Olympics Guide: how brands can (and can not) get involved online

If your brand isn’t a sponsor of the Olympic Games, posting content that directly relates to the Olympics (either from the brand or retweeted from someone else) is a risky business.

The first rule of obeying the London Olympics Association Right (LOAR) is to not associate your brand and the Olympics. Any content you create and advertise must not mislead people into thinking there is any kind of official association.

Simply, you can achieve this by:
1.    Limiting the types of content that the brand posts
2.    Keeping an eye on the quantity of permitted Olympics related social media updates made by the brand

Obviously, most brands won’t (and probably couldn’t) ignore the Games altogether. Everyone wants in on the action. But unless you are an official sponsor, you are not permitted to create an association. So it’s a fine line to tread.

A busy Twitter stream that posts one tweet on a permitted Olympics topic would probably be fine. A burst of Olympics-only tweets with a few non-Olympics tweets here and there wouldn’t.

Essentially, branded social media output is counted as advertising material – whichLOCOG (The London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games) has issued guidance about, saying: “Do provide relevant, factual information to clients and customers in a way which does not promote your business in association with the Games. (For example, one section on the Games amongst several in a regular client bulletin or seminar).”

Here are the guidelines we are using to brief clients and community managers:  (and note this is our take only, not legal advice, or a direct quote from LOCOG guidance.)

If in context (e.g. it’s not completely random for your brand to comment on sporting events) brands can:
•    1. Provide relevant, accurate, factual information (e.g. tweeting race winners)
•    2. Report on the facts of an event (e.g. tweeting about a new record time)
•    3. State when an event is taking place (e.g. “Relay race starts in 10mins”)

Brands should:
 *Moderate pictures, video or audio from events to be posted on social media sites for potential copyright infringement.
• *Update moderation guidelines to cater for the Olympics legislation.
•  *Consider re-tweets in the same way as the brands own tweets when applying these restrictions.
• *Use caution when linking to any content that refers to the Olympics. Linking rules to London2012.com have been published by LOCOG in section 5 of their terms of use.

Brands should not (unless an exemption or defence applies, or the post falls under the above ‘can do’ list):
•    Use the Olympic symbols, the word ‘Olympics, ‘Paralympics’ or any derivation of those words.
•    Use the following Listed Expressions (2 from List A or one from each list) List A: “games”, “two thousand and twelve”, “2012″ and “twenty twelve” and List B: “gold”, “silver”, “bronze”, “London”, “medals”, “sponsor” and “summer”

Brands must not:

•    Run a marketing campaign to get the brand associated with the Olympics
•    Encourage Olympics themed-responses from the brands community
•    Run a competition for Olympics tickets
•    Give specific expressions of support (e.g. “Go Team GB in London 2012!”) or excitement/enthusiasm suggesting a connection with the brand (e.g. “everyone here at Brand X so excited about the Olympics!”)
•    Mention a specific product or service in connection with the Games (e.g. “Athlete X would have won if he’d been wearing our new X trainers!”)
•    Sponsor London 2012 broadcasts or reports

We also looked at specific types of social content, and what would be ok and what would break the rules.

It’s okay to:
•    Re-tweet the @London2012 account
•    Post factual information about the events
•    Post enthusiastic updates about events, as long as they are not specific, or suggesting a connection with the brand (e.g. “Olympics opening ceremony was awesome!  Well done @London2012″)
•    Have a campaign around sporting excellence that contains no reference to the Olympics in words or pictures. No reference to London but just a reference to sporting excellence, winning, running fast etc. is likely to be ok, but remember to keep a watch out for use of the Listed Expressions

Brands are on shaky ground when
•    Re-tweeting Olympics comments from the general public. If a brand re-tweets a consumer’s tweet then it takes on responsibility for the content in that tweet as its own. That is certainly the view of the ASA in terms of advertising compliance
•    Linking to blogs (this can be seen as an incorporation of that blog). If it’s an Olympic-related blog that doesn’t comply with the rules above, don’t do it

Avoid:
•    Posting messages of support to athletes – LOCOG has specifically given the example of “BRAND X supports our team at the Olympics” as a forbidden message. So a post on a brand’s social media platform expressing support (e.g. “Go Team GB!”) could be interpreted as having the same impact
•    Posting running commentary on events is, in theory, OK but likely to be difficult to while trying to limit the quantity of posts so it’s best avoided.
•    Encouraging participation/comments/discussion around Olympic events/participants from your community would, in the opinion of eModeration’s  legal advisor, be seen as an attempt to create an association and so should be avoided
•    Posting pictures of London/stadia/crowds/events around the Olympics. If they are used, enormous caution needs to be applied. This may limit your ability to create that snazzy Olympics pin board, but LOCOG has said that even a picture of a runner in outline carrying something that looks similar to a torch against a silhouette of London landmarks would infringe the LOAR by creating an association. Ultimately, brands need to avoid any image that suggests an association with the London Olympics
•    Posts on your site/Facebook page/Pinterest page / other forum from your community about or from the Olympics. Consider whether UGC on your site or Facebook page becomes a marketing communication for your brand. If you select an image from a user and pin it as a brand image on, say, your Facebook or Pinterest page, you are repurposing the image as marketing material for the brand and thus bringing it within the restrictions. If your users post Olympics-related material, a cautious approach would be to remove this type of content just in case (and explain why). A more ‘commercial’ approach would perhaps be to allow the conversation to happen but not to participate in it on the part of the brand.
•    Posts (video, audio, pictures) your site/Facebook page/Pinterest page / other forum from your community from the Olympics – This is likely to be infringing content. As such, it should be treated the same way your brand would treat any other intellectual property right infringing content and be removed.

I hope this is useful. We’ve posted more detailed advice on our blog posts parts 1 and 2.