IP East - The road to Rio

20 April 2016

With the Rio Olympics on the horizon and the athletes preparing, marketers will likewise be preparing for the opportunities to be had

With the Rio Olympics on the horizon and the athletes preparing, marketers will likewise be preparing for the opportunities to be had in connection with one of the most effective international marketing platforms. However, as with any major sporting event, sponsorship income is crucial to its success. To attract sponsors, it is equally crucial to restrict non-sponsors taking benefit from an association with the Games.

London re-calling

With London 2012, UK businesses experienced first-hand the bespoke legislation prohibiting use of specific Olympic-related words and symbols (e.g. “Olympic” and the Olympic rings) to imply a commercial association. You may recall, Café Olympic forced to re-brand (to Café Lympic) and the butcher asked to remove a sign depicting the Olympic rings in sausage links.

In addition, there was a London Olympic Association Right preventing non-sponsors from commercially associating themselves specifically with the London Games, along with a list of prohibited terms (including “Games”, “2012”, “London” and “Summer”) deemed indicative of infringement when used in certain combinations. Therefore, in the UK it was not possible to reference the “2012 Games” if it implied a commercial association with the London Games.

Looking forward – to Rio

The ban on use of various Olympic-related words and symbols remains but there’s no bespoke UK legislation preventing use of generic terms, such as “Summer Games”. Nevertheless, from a passing off perspective, it will still depend on the overall context. “Win a two week holiday to Brazil for the Summer Games” may suggest some commercial connection if the execution contains other sports related copy or visuals. “Win a two week holiday to Brazil to join in the party this summer” would be preferable, trading off the vibe in Rio as opposed to the event itself.

A safe option is to focus on patriotism. There’s no monopoly on getting behind the country and you’ll see many people bringing the Union Jack into advertising around Games’ time. Or athlete sponsorship - Virgin created a successful link without any use of Olympic marks by sponsoring Usain Bolt. However, be mindful of Rule 40 of the Olympic Charter which places advertising restrictions on competitors during the competition period.

Finally, take note of the ticket terms and conditions. Games’ tickets are non-transferable and promotional use by non-sponsors is prohibited. Ticket holders may not share images or video taken within venues for promotional purposes, so incorporating such content in your advertising will violate the terms. Likewise, any ‘marketing activity’ is a prohibited behaviour. In 1996, Nike handed out branded caps to fans, the wearing of which would likely contravene the ticket terms nowadays.

It’s a fine line but businesses should be able to leverage off the excitement surrounding Rio with some creativity and a basic understanding of the rights position and pressure points. A few of our key tips are over the page to assist.

Road to Rio: Marketing dos and don’ts


  • Encourage excitement around sport in general
  • Emphasise patriotism
  • Take note of direct competitors that are sponsors (and more likely to encourage action be taken)
  • Geo-block to avoid stricter foreign laws


  • Use the official Olympic marks
  • Suggest a commercial association with the Games or participating athletes
  • Fall foul of ticket terms and conditions

The content of this article is for general information only. For further information regarding marketing during the Olympics, please contact Nellie Jackson. Law covered as at April 2016.