London 2012 Watch: Olympic #Rule40 Backfires as Fans Embrace Non-Sponsors


“Some journalists have been surprised to see Olympic workers taping over the logos on their Dell and Apple computers, since neither company is bankrolling the games, and the U.S. women’s soccer team has been told not to hand out its media guide because it has 12 small logos of its sponsors — which are not official Olympics 2012 backers.”

The absurd levels
to which Olympic organizers are going to erase any and every possible non-sponsor brand name from peaking out came to its absurd apex on Saturday during the archery competition. On his way to the bronze medal, Chinese archer Xiaoxiang Dai was forced to put neon-yellow tape on his hat to cover its nearly invisible, black on black logo for… the Chicago Bears. [more]

It has become a common sight in London. Athletes with odd bits of tape on their clothing, gear bags, and even skin. The “brand police” appear to be taking their jobs deathly seriously. Even the (Puma-sponsored) fastest man in the world is puzzled by the “weird, silly rules” at the London 2012 Summer Games.

London’s Telegraph reports that even the home team has felt IOC’s wrath, with “Next-designed outfits fell foul of International Olympic Committee rules banning slogans from athletes’ clothing. The rule is designed to prevent overtly political statements, but to the British Olympic Association’s astonishment the IOC ruled that its slogan, ‘Better Never Stops’, contravened the rules.”

The IOC is even wise to the guerrilla and ambush marketing tactics that have worked in the past. With athletes getting into the zone by donning headphones, Beats, the headphones brand of musician Dr. Dre, set up a special brand center inside the a private club and invited athletes to get a free pair. Soon, Beats products were showing up on TV on Olympians heads as they amped themselves up for competition.  One British soccer team member even Tweeted “Loving my new GB Beats by Dre #TeamGB #Beats.” Well, the IOC wasn’t going to let that fly. The IOC immediately warned the British contingent to knock it off. If the athletes wanted to listen to music pre-game, the IOC noted that “Olympians were welcome to wear Panasonic headphones.”

One needn’t be from a major national team or be guaranteed TV time to draw attention from the IOC’s brand police. Dana Abdul Razzaq, a sprinter with the small Iraq team, has been spotted racing with the logos on he shoes taped over. Audiences watching the tennis competition also saw gear bags with taped-over logos.

Uniforms and equipment are not the only place logos and slogans are coming under scrutiny. German gymnast Marcel Nguyen has brought special sweat-proof makeup to apply to his chest to cover tattoos. US star runner and the “Brad Pitt of track,” Nick Symmonds, has been forced to run with tape on his shoulder covering a temporary tattoo advertising the Twitter handle of Hanson Dodge Creative, a Milwaukee ad agency with which he has a one-year sponsorship deal.

Symmonds has publicly decried the IOC’s measures, telling the BBC that “Commercial sponsorship is the only way we are able to keep training. It is the only way we are able to pursue our Olympic dreams.” And he’s not the only upset Olympian.

Under the Twitter hashtags #wedemandchange and #rule40 (denoting the rule limiting athlete endorsements and speech), Olympians are speaking out. Maybe most graphic is the picture posted by US hurdler Dawn Harper, showing herself with her mouth covered with tape reading “rule 40.” 

Other athletes are turning rule 40 into a boomeranging nightmare for the IOC and its partners, drawing even more attention by mentioning that the brand cannot be mentioned. On Aug. 5, US track star Dominique Blake tweeted: “Trying out my new Headphones from my sponsor that I cannot name SMh #rule40.” SMH is an acronym for “shaking my head” in disbelief.

Of course brands like Nike — which already poked the IOC in the eye with its alt London Summer 2012 campaign — are thoroughly enjoying the #rule40 protest as it endorses many of the athletes involved.

But it’s not just the athletes. After athletes began criticizing rule 40, fans got into the act, retweeting messages about the athletes’ sponsors that the athletes themselves are barred from mentioning. Gatorade, Brooks and New Balance are just three of the brands that Twitter users have thanked openly for supporting their favorite competitors. The kind of brand-positive, word of mouth goodwill that the IOC would love to generate for its partner brands is being produced for all brands except the partner brands. It’s a certifiable disaster for the IOC.

The proof is in the (blood) pudding. New data from Experian show that Olympic partner brands McDonald’s, Adidas, and Visa all recently saw up to 21 percent traffic increases to their UK websites. But after a report that the games might ban anyone wearing a Pepsi t-shirt, traffic to Pepsi’s website “increased 53% on Sunday after declining 30% in the five weeks to 21 July, while on the same day traffic to Coca-Cola’s corporate site fell by 69%.”