Hopefully you caught the Olympics/ambush marketing training session Caroline Bouvier (BHB, France) and I hosted on Monday 8 April 2024: Olympics: Beating around le ambush!  If not, feel free to drop me an email to ask for a copy of the recording and the slides.

One point I would like to draw out, however, is around Rule 40, and the use of athletes in ad campaigns that will be seen over the summer.

In a nutshell, Rule 40 means that companies unconnected with the Games must not show Olympic athletes (or trainers, coaches, officials or other participants) in advertising and marketing campaigns during the ‘Games Period’ (aka ‘Blackout Period’), from 18 July to 13 August 2024 (inclusive), except in limited circumstances. 

The main exception to this rule is if the advertising that features participants is merely a continuation of ‘business-as-usual’ advertising that was already in the market before 18 April 2024, and (other than featuring the athlete) is it otherwise unconnected with the Olympics. In the International Olympic Committee’s guidance this is called ‘generic advertising'.

The concept of “generic advertising” is an important one for participants' personal sponsors that are not Olympic Partners, as well as any other companies that have one-off agreements with athletes to appear in their ad campaigns over the summer.

Deeper (synchronised) dive

Generic advertising means advertising where:

  1. the only connection between, on the one hand, the Olympic Movement (i.e. Paris 2024, the IOC, the Paris 2024 Organising Committee, a NOC or a NOC’s Olympic team) and, on the other hand, the relevant advertising activity, is the fact that the advertising uses a participant’s image or name,
  2. the advertising must have been in the market for at least 90 days prior to the Games Period (i.e. before 18 April 2024), and
  3. the advertising must be planned to run consistently and not be materially escalated during the Games Period.

Is there any flexibility?

The guidance states that “Criteria 2 [meaning the 18 April cut off] and criteria 3 will be applied flexibly where possible, to support athletes competing in other competitions and to enable business-as-usual campaigns.” 

It isn't clear precisely how much flexibility there is here, so advertisers would be well advised to ensure that they have factored in the date and ensured the materials are in use before 18 April 2024, without any spikes in usage being planned during the Games Period. 

If the participant featured in the campaign does particularly well during the games, it will be difficult (but important) to avoid ramping up use of the ad campaign during the games period.

Final hurdle?

In addition to the qualifying criteria above, 'generic advertising' campaigns that are planned for the Games Period must be notified to:

  • the IOC (by 18 June 2024) in the case of multi-territory or global campaigns featuring athletes, or
  • the relevant National Olympic Committee (NOC) in case of single-territory campaigns if so required by the relevant NOC guidance.

Notified advertising will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis, and you can see some illustrative examples of advertising methods that the IOC believes would, and would not, be regarded as generic advertising.

For social media advertising, it is not necessary to provide advance notice of each individual post, but notice must be given setting out a description of the social media advertising plan, including the nature and planned content of the posts, by no later than 18 June 2024.

HOWEVER, the good news is that in the UK, the use of Team GB athletes in UK-only ads does not need to be notified to the British Olympics Association (BOA). They have decided to operate a ‘deemed consent’ model provided their guidelines are followed. 

Brands may write to the BOA before 4 July to confirm their plans are consistent with the guidelines if they wish - but may be better off taking independent advice if they don't want to flag their plans to the BOA….

Global movement

Remember that multi-territory or global campaigns will still need to be notified to the IOC by 18 June 2024.

Also, the IOC guidance states that where an advertiser wishes to feature an athlete in an advert in the UK, but the athlete is not a member of Team GB, the advertiser will need to refer to the relevant NOC guidelines of the relevant athlete, and may need to notify both the relevant NOC and BOA. 

There are other strict rules around ‘thank you' posts to keep in mind, which do not count as ‘generic advertising’ but are still subject to restrictions. 

On your marks, get set… go!

So, if you're a brand that intends to use athletes in your non-Olympics related campaigns over the summer, you would be well advised to have a well thought-out plan in place, start it asap, notify the IOC/NOC ahead of their deadline if necessary, and avoid having ‘spikes’ in activity during the Games Period. 

Given that the deadline for first use (under the guidelines) is 18 April 2024, you had better get your running shoes on!

A marathon, not a sprint…

This article has focused on the use of athletes in adverts, but if you are looking for broader guidance on the Olympics and ambush marketing, see our guidance note, here.

Further guidance from the IOC is available here.