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Rule 40: Battle of the Brands

Burton Snowboard As the International Olympic Committee and Olympic athletes Rule 40 “battle” heats up, it appears the Winter Olympics will be remembered for a lot of the “games” being played off the ice.

Created as an honorable regulation to limit excessive advertising and to respect this year’s official Olympic sponsors, Rule 40 prevents Olympic athletes, trainers and officials from posting, blogging or tweeting about any brand, product or service that is not an official sponsor.

In Sochi’s Olympic Park, you won’t find Pepsi (Coca-Cola is an official sponsor), only Visa cards work in the ATMs, and if you have an iPhone, you better slap on a piece of tape to cover the logo, as Samsung is the official sponsor. As these sponsors shell out more than $100 million to back the games, it seems logical and fair, but a recent article by The Denver Post gives a different perspective on the IOC’s infamous Rule 40 and how it hasn’t kept pace with today’s booming social media landscape.

When tweets and clothing featuring non-official sponsors are banned, the author argues that the rule prohibits athletes from “doing what they always do.”

As we all know, it takes an extraordinary amount of talent to participate in the Olympics, what we might not realize is it also takes a great amount of money to get there, and that’s where the sponsors come in.

U.S. Freeskier David Wise is one of the many Olympic athletes who received support from non-Olympic sponsors. According to The Denver Post article, for him, the idea of having sponsors who have gotten him to the point where he’s at, and not giving them the representation they deserve is sad.

Is it fair to the smaller companies that sponsored the athletes’ training for years leading up to the Olympics not to benefit from some of their success?

With social media exploding, the Rule 40 blackout is becoming more difficult to control, which we saw when 2012 London Olympics athletes started tweeting using the hashtags #WeDemandChange and #Rule40 in protest of the rule.

This year, we’re even seeing companies (and Olympians) dance around Rule 40. Just before the Rule 40 blackout date, Guinness released an inspiring 48-second ad telling the story of Olympic biathlon competitors and twins Tracy and Lanny Barnes that touched millions and made headlines (read about it on AdWeek). In 2012, Nike ran a commercial that didn’t mention the Olympics, but evoked its spirit.

While I have my thoughts about Rule 40, I’d love to know how others feel about it.

Photo credit: The New York Times

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