Rule 40 is an Olympic rule most fans of the games probably do not understand or even know about. It has nothing to do with doping or the competition itself, but its penalties are just as harsh. Olympians can be banned from competing or stripped of their medals if they violate Rule 40 — so I guess sometimes it is considered worse than doping. In recent years, the explosion of social media has changed how athletes and sponsors do business and the Olympics are no different.
Rule 40 essentially says that the IOC and national team sponsors and partners control what brands receive exposure from the game. The rule is disguised as a way to make sure the games don’t become over-saturated with advertisements, but let’s be honest we will see a bunch of Visa, Coca-Cola, and McDonalds advertisements and signage throughout the game. Basically it protects brands. They didn’t shell out millions and billions of dollars in deals to have a competitor guerrilla market its way to exposure.
Social media has made Rule 40 a bit tricky, so now the IOC has loosened some of the constraints. Athletes still can’t use Olmypic marks — that makes sense– or even words such as gold, games or 2016 — that’s a little more odd. There has been some complaints from smaller sport athletes that the games are infringing on their ability to make money from their short time frame of fame, but the rules used to be worse. Athletes and their brand partners will have to get creative.
That means more Snapchat, more Instagram posts, more Twitter. Athletes and brands can still advertise, they just have to be smart about it. It’s obviously easier for athletes if they have deals with current IOC and national team partners, but for now we will see how creative the competitors can get on their social media.