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The Olympic Branding Blackout

Posted in Advertising, Branding

-Wes Anderson, Attorney

Has there been a more constant presence at the Rio Olympics than #brands? I saw it everywhere, from the Polo-branded opening ceremony garb (met with the requisite outrage) to Michael Phelps’ “MP” branded swimwear (of questionable durability).

So it came as a huge surprise to learn the Olympics has a very specific rule regarding branding – “Rule 40” of the Olympic charter. Rule 40, ostensibly designed to protect against “overcommercialisation,” limits athletes, coaches and other participants from appearing in advertising and other marketing, including social media posts, without the IOC’s permission. More significantly, athletes are banned from wearing clothing with logos of non-Olympic brands from July 27 to August 24 of the Olympics.

One compelling example of Rule 40 in action was Emma Coburn, who won bronze in the 3,000 meter steeplechase recently. Coburn is sponsored by New Balance, but wore a Nike uniform as per USA Track & Field’s sponsorship agreement. Coburn could wear her N-branded spikes, but Rule 40 prohibited her from even mentioning New Balance on social media or in press interviews.

When she won the bronze, however, she took the liberty of removing her New Balance spikes and tied them together around her shoulder.

The resulting photo meant, Rule 40 be damned, Nike was forced to share the spotlight:

Goes to show that the Olympic motto remains alive and well: “Faster, Higher, Stronger, #Brander.”