Olympics sponsor Samsung reportedly gifted Galaxy Note 3 smartphones to Sochi athletes, but with a serious string attached, Slashgear reports: Athletes were banned from using any other mobile device during the opening ceremonies. Or, if they did use them, they were required to physically cover up any competitor logo so it wouldn’t accidentally be caught on camera during the televised ceremony.
As an official Sochi sponsor, Samsung is technically within its rights (and Olympic rules) to request the ban. But in our social-sharing, tech-savvy world, the question becomes more nuanced: Has that kind of model been disrupted?
Is that kind of ban reasonable? Or does it make a company look authoritarian and hopelessly old-school?
All athletes, coaches, and other Olympics officials have long been required to abide by what’s known as Rule 40 of the Olympic charter, as enforced by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). Rule 40 forbids athletes from mentioning any non-games sponsor, writes Chris Hauk on Mactrast, an Apple news aggregator.
More broadly, the IOC prevents non-sponsors from hijacking any attention away from the big-name Olympic sponsors that support the Games—such as Adidas, Coca-Cola, McDonald’s and Samsung. In practical terms, it bans any mention of outside brands by athletes (even in social media), and it bans any non-sponsoring company from mentioning the Olympics during “blackout” periods around the Games themselves.
“Those breaking the rule can be punished via removal of accreditation and financial penalties, and can even be disqualified from participating in the games,” Hauk wrote.
It’s not just big brands that the International Olympic Committee scolds: During the 2012 games in London, butcher Dennis Spurr was asked to remove his inspired rendering—in sausage links—of the Olympic rings, or else face $30K in fines from the IOC.
The rule also means that athletes are banned from acknowledging any brand that might’ve supported their training and prep, and it means that those non-sponsor brands can’t promote those athletes on social media or in any marketing efforts.
Two years ago, at the 2012 Games, some athletes protested the restrictions on Twitter with #wedemandchange and #rule40 hashtags. Some clever brands skirted the issue entirely by more nuanced marketing: I’ve often shared (non-sponsor) Nike’s brilliant efforts to celebrate everyday athletes in non-Olympic “Londons” worldwide:
It’s a difficult question, isn’t it?
On the one hand, the Games would not be possible without the official Olympic sponsors.
On the other hand, the athletes wouldn’t be competing without the support of sponsors who might not be officially supporting the Games.
And, in the meantime, the world—at least socially and technology-wise—is becoming democratized.
My take is this: It’s hard to control who can say what about a brand and when they are allowed to say it. That model has been disrupted—by Twitter, Instagram, Vine, Tumblr and Facebook. And the “disruptors” are all of us: the athletes, the brands, and the fans.
Policies like Samsung’s make brands seem out of touch, and neither of those things inspire consumers in our connected world. As Rob Goring says here:
— Rob Goring (@gori01) February 5, 2014
What do you think? Has there got to be a better way?
“Sochi Olympic rings” header photo credit: Tim Washer