Olympic sponsorship comes with a hefty price tag—about $100 million for a 4-year cycle—so it’s no surprise that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and United States Olympic Committee (USOC) take their IP rules very seriously. In the past, enforcement presented quite a challenge as many corporations looking to cash in on Olympic fever were eager to try their hand at “ambush marketing,” wherein they attempt to imply an association with the Olympics without directly breaking any rules. However, with the rise of social media, notably Twitter, and new sponsorship agreements with athletes that encourage them to tweet, enforcement has become even more problematic.
On June 20th the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) in the UK banned a twitter-based Nike advertising campaign that employed the U.K. soccer stars Wayne Rooney and Jack Wilshere. The ASA was unmoved by Nike’s argument that both players were widely known as being sponsored by Nike and would not be confused about whether or not the two athletes’ tweets were advertising. In its ruling the ASA stated that the “Nike reference was not prominent and could be missed,” a violation of its rule that ads must be “obviously identifiable.” This ruling makes social media advertising law much clearer in the UK, but guidelines remain murky in the US where the FTC has not updated its Dot-com Disclosure rules since 2000 before Facebook, Twitter, and the bevy of other social networks were even conceived as ideas.
U.S. marketers will at least face less uncertainty soon because the FTC convened a public workshop to explore social media disclosures in May and is expected to release new guidelines later this year. In the meantime it would be wise to tread carefully around social media advertisements, particularly those regarding the Olympics.