With the Rio 2016 Olympic games well under way, everybody is showing their support on social media. Sports events are always a great opportunity for brands to achieve success on social media. However,  the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) Rule 40 is making it nigh impossible for unofficial sponsors and athletes to find this success. Before the start of the Olympics, we did an analysis on Rule 40 and how brands might get around it. As a follow up on that analysis, we checked if brands and athletes managed to bypass Rule 40 on Twitter. As it turns out, Rule 40 is very effective at preventing brands and athletes form marketing on social media. 

Social media marketing and sports events

Huge sports events are excellent places to market your brand on social media. They get millions of people to come together over one topic and celebrate their love for the game.  It’s a great chance to practice real-time marketing, where your react and promote your product as real-life events are happening. Your favourite team got a goal? It’s an excellent time to make a fun tweet about it.

It can be massively beneficial for brands. The hype around big sports events, like the Super Bowl, will get tons of people’s attention on social media. So if you post the right tweet at the right time, you could leverage your brand and achieve amazing success.

But you don’t even need to have such a massive success for it to be beneficial. Simply contributing the conversation can help build your brand image online and build a rapport with fans. Maybe you have some predictions for the game that you want to share. Or maybe you want to show your town that you support the local team that’s playing in the big game.  As long as you can connect with fans online through the game, your brand will find some form of success.

One rule to rule them all

For the Olympics, that universal success is pretty much destroyed because of Rule 40. Rule 40 prevents athletes and unofficial sponsors from marketing themselves in any relation to the Olympic games. It’s a rule that has gotten a lot of hate recently and in during previous Olympic games as well. The IOC extended their reach this year to banning terms on social media, and we decided to check out just how powerful Rule 40 really is.

It seemed plausible that some unofficial sponsors, athletes, or coaches might be creative enough to make some great posts. However, the rules proved to be too much and very few people are able to get passed Rule 40 and achieve success. For this analysis, we analyzed all tweets containing #Rule40 between 08.10.2016 and 08.10.2016 and compared them with other used hashtags.

Rule 40 follow up 2

We can see that there was some talk of Rule 40, but most tweets about it were not made by athletes or sponsors, but by others still pointing out the absurdity of the rule. Even then, the amount of tweets made using Rule 40 is very small.

The reason for this is that most brands aren’t even trying. Again, only 637 tweets featured the Rule 40 hashtag. There’s just too much risk for them. Even a great post would drown among all the tweets that can use the official Rio 2016 hashtags. No athlete wants to risk being removed from the games for a mildly successful tweet. There is even a Twitter bot going after people tweeting about the games. It claims to be official but there is no evidence of that, especially since the account has been suspended. However, the bot demonstrated just how absurd Rule 40 really is when it decided that the Papacy, along with a few others, was in violation of advertising the Olympic games.

Rule 40 follow up 1

Usage of banned words

We analyzed the official Rio 2016 hashtag to see if the IOC banned the right words and terms to reach their goal. We analyzed over 978 thousand tweets with the hashtag Rio 2016 between 06.08.2016 and 10.08.2016.

Sotrender Blog Rule 40 part 2

So far, we can see that a lot of the terms that the IOC trademarked we’re very popular. They we’re trademarked to forbid athletes, coaches, and unofficial sponsors from using them, and they seemed to make some good choices. Rio 2016, all forms of the word Olympics, Gold, Silver, Bronze, and Medal were popular among regular Twitter users and official sponsors.

However, some trademarked terms such as Effort, Challenge, and Games, were hardly used. It was likely a preventative measure to limit even the attempt at capitalising on the games by using less popular terms. But I get the feeling that big brother would be proud regardless.

And below we can see the activity chart for for #Rio2016. After the start of the games it’s had a steady popularity, that only dipped during certain hours (when the US was alseep). Brands and athletes could have been reaching tons of people. They could have been getting there name seen and sharing their thoughts and feelings with fans. But they could not.

Rule 40 follow up 3

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So congrats, IOC. You have successfully prevented hundreds of athletes from sharing the most amazing moments of their lives with their fans. You’ve prevented coaches from demonstrating their pride and admiration for the people they helped to grow and taught to surpass expectations. But what you should be most proud of is how you’ve stopped these athletes, coaches, and brands from making any profit from their hard work while you keep it for yourself.

The best Rule 40 tweets

However, there we’re still some decent examples of brands trying to get around Rule 40. They might not have been the most successful tweets, but the effort is to be commended.  Take some pointers from these vague tweets on how to get creative with social media.

What do you think of Rule 40? Did you expect brands and athletes to get around it more successfully? Let us know in the comments below!

Check out the original analysis here!


Thomas Kowalski