Constraint truly does breed creativity when it comes to non-sponsoring companies trying to tap into Olympic Marketing Buzz.
You may or may not know that the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) is pretty strict when it comes to Olympic-related marketing. OK, so that’s a major understatement—they’re downright scary about it. This year, USOC sent a letter to all non-sponsoring companies threatening legal action against the use of any Olympic imagery, wordery, or themes. USOC calls it Rule40.
Seriously though, they’re even trying to ban the sharing or retweeting of any NBC video or picture that contains Olympic themes. Even crazier, non-sponsoring companies can’t even use Olympic related hashtags like #TeamUSA. Banning retweets and hashtags! What are they going to do? Sue? Yep, that’s exactly their plan.
And these types of restrictions are why we see the same old companies every Olympics making insanely emotional videos designed to make mothers everywhere weep (and buy more Downy fabric softener, of course). Oh, and let’s not forget those hilarious GE commercials where they try and convince us that they’re hip and young because they include young- and hip-looking millennials doing young- and hip-looking things.
For the full story of why USOC started these kinds of restrictions, check out this awesome story about Magic Johnson and the Nike crew.
These amazing ads go up and everyone goes wild, but in my opinion, those ads don’t really represent the magic of marketing. They’re insanely good storytellers, advertisers, videographers, etc., but paying big bucks to get in front of millions of eyes just doesn't display the true worth of a marketing campaign.
Those sponsored companies have worked for decades and decades to get to where they are today, so hats off to them. But it’s even more fun to watch other non-sponsoring companies weasel their way into the mix by sheer creativity and sometimes by some serious guts.
Let’s take a look at a few:
Totino's marketing has always been a little whacky, but this time, they won big. By creating this very non-specific-to-the-Olympics GIF, which is clearly in reference to the Olympics, they've been able to walk that fine line between law suit and silence. Oh, and this graphic also got loads of shares from their Tumblr page.
This particular GIF featuring one of Totino's pizza roles, was captioned, "Come at me, Bro!"
- General Mills
This cleverly-shot video of adorable bunnies performing on a balance beam with red, white, and blue colors in the background is clearly just coincidentally similar to the Olympics right?
The best part of this idea is that it grew into a full-fledged campaign in which General Mills has received and reposted hundreds of fans' bunny videos. I would guess that most consumers aren't super passionate about their cereal, but somehow General Mills has captivated loads of their fans and taken them from being customers to becoming evangelizers.
Brooks had had enough earlier this year when they, like many of their non-sponsoring competitors, received that letter from USOC. They couldn't even cheer on their own sponsored athletes. They decided to launch a "secret" campaign directly attacking USOC with vague messaging encouraging vague people in their goals of accomplishing vague achievements at some vague event. You get the idea.
But alas, somehow the running shoe and apparel company was found out by none other than the Wall Street Journal. It was an obvious marketing stunt and an effective on at that as awareness of USOC's Rule40 has grown and more and more people are speaking out against it.
PÜR, a cosmetics company, also decided to poke the bear a bit with some social media messages like this one. Many companies like these are using the hashtag #TheBigEvent to get their ideas across. Will USOC really go after a harmless cosmetics company like this?
Call it being the right place at the right time (wait, isn’t that their entire business model?), but Uber totally capitalized on an opportunity to help an Olympian’s father make it to Rio to watch his son compete.
What the video didn't say (but what was found in dozens of high-profile articles) was that Uber went on to give Hill $1,000 in Uber vouchers. While Uber didn't make this stunt happen, they entered at just the right time to add to a man's joy and to add some good will towards Uber's expansion efforts. People won't just remember that the Olympian's father was able to see him in Rio, but that the father was also a humble Uber driver.
Where's All This Headed?
These companies are begging the question: how much longer does USOC expect to keep such stringent control of Olympic Marketing? In an age where any individual Facebook or YouTube user’s account becomes an advertising channel with live video streaming, there’s really no way USOC can keep up with this.
As for all you marketers out there, the big lesson is that the right message, at exactly the right time, through the exact right channel can not only put (keep) you on the map, but also steal some "air time" from your greatest competitors.