Why You Don’t Need Athletes for Your Rio 2016 Influencer Marketing Campaign

By: Krista LaRiviere on August 17, 2016 Categories: Influencer Marketing, Mintent

Athletes spend their entire lives training, hoping that one day they’ll be good enough to qualify for the Olympics. And if they become a country favourite, they might gain the attention of sponsors. The batch of athletes competing at Rio 2016 is no different; they just want to be the best they can be at their sport. Once an athlete reaches the podium, they want to celebrate and thank their sponsors for helping to get them there. Unfortunately, social media can be a tricky thing to navigate as an Olympic athlete, and even something as simple as a tweet to thank their sponsors can be a violation of Olympic rules. Specifically a violation of Rule 40.

What is Rule 40?

This rule focuses on advertising around the Olympics. According to Yahoo “Rule 40 is a by-law in the official Olympic Charter,” and it states that “No competitor, coach, trainer or official who participates in the Olympic Games may allow his person, name, picture or sports performances to be used for advertising purposes during the Olympic Games without the express consent of the IOC board.” Official Olympic sponsors such as Coca-Cola and NBC are allowed to promote themselves using athletes they sponsor and games related hashtags, but unofficial sponsors can not. Rule 40 has a blackout period, lasting from nine days prior to the opening ceremonies to three days after the closing day.

How is Rio 2016 different?

Fortunately, the IOC gave a bit more flexibility to the rule back in February 2015. For Rio 2016, athletes and brands are now allowed to promote and support each other as long as advertisements are not overly connected to the Olympics. They are allowed to mention each other, but may not use hashtags that directly reference the Olympics (ex: #Olympic, #games, #Gold).

The list of words that cannot be used by unofficial sponsors is extensive. Everything from 2016, to Games or even Performance, are all included in the list of words shared by BBC that can get sponsors into trouble if used on social media during the blackout period of the games. Sponsors are not even permitted to retweet an athlete or any other tweets that support an athlete they sponsor for the duration of the blackout. So if you see any cryptic messages from athletes or sponsors on social media over the next couple of weeks, then it is most likely related to the Olympics and #Rule40.

How have brands been using influencer marketing during Rio 2016?

For previous games, Rule 40 gave official sponsors a huge advantage, but now with the adjustment to the rule, marketers everywhere are curious to see if unofficial sponsors will be able to close the gap and be just as successful with their marketing near the Olympic Games. Specifically, influencer marketing is an area where brands may decide to extend some of their marketing efforts. According to Adweek, Osielle is a brand considering taking advantage of their 400 brand ambassadors to promote and support their athletes competing at the games. Brand ambassadors are allowed to post about the Olympics on social media during the blackout.

Coca-Cola is an official Olympic sponsor who has already begun their influencer marketing campaign related to the games. They engaged social media influencers as well as bloggers for their #ThatsGold campaign. Coca-Cola knows that millennials want to feel like they are a part of the action and not just spectators. The campaign began 2 months ago with 4 social media superstars running in the Torch Relay to promote the Olympic Games and Coca-Cola. The influencers created content that they shared on their social channels to engage their followers.

The #ThatsGold campaign continues throughout the games and includes a teen-focused Coca-Cola Olympic Station. Bloggers and social media stars will be present at the station in Rio creating real-time content on what gold means to them. Cody and Alli Simpson, Allie Marie Evans, and Jake Boys will all be promoting their content on social media and encouraging their followers to share what gold means to them using #ThatsGold.

Any marketer who is currently involved in influencer marketing would be quick to tell you that it is an excellent way for brands to promote themselves without directly speaking to their consumers. Influencers have such high engagement with their audience, and people trust them. This is most likely why you’ll see so many brands adding influencer marketing to their marketing mix. It is also a great opportunity for brands who are not official sponsors of the Olympics to still be involved with their athletes and have their message heard without breaking Rule 40.

How NBC Engaged Influencers for Rio

NBC’s biggest challenge leading up to the Olympics was how they could get younger viewers to tune in to watch the games. As a primary network broadcaster and official sponsor for the Olympics, NBC is not limited by Rule 40. They also know millennials are largely on social media, and this would be an easy place to engage with them.

NBC dedicated a large portion of their marketing efforts to influencer marketing. They divided their influencer marketing campaign into three sections, each one designed to target a different audience. Their campaign consisted of “Social Media Personalities”, “Social Media Opening Ceremony”, and “Spotify”.

Social Media Personalities

“Social Media Personalities” was designed to run before the games. NBC brought on a wide variety of influencers to create content that would get people excited for Rio. They specialized in everything from comedy, to music and beauty. They all created content to share on their pages. The goal for NBC was to ensure that viewers would watch the Olympics on TV. People will frequently tune into shows and events online now, so NBC knew they would need to start early if they wanted viewers on TV. Flula is one of over 250 influencers who partnered with NBC for this part of the campaign. He made high quality videos involving Olympic athletes completing hilarious challenges such as freestyling songs and competing in fake sporting events and then shared them on his social accounts. Amanda Cerny was also involved in this campaign, but the video she created featured other influencers instead of athletes. They were just two of many pieces of content shared in the weeks leading up to the Olympic games as a part of NBC’s campaign.

Social Media Opening Ceremony

For the Opening Ceremonies, NBC launched their “Social Media Opening Ceremony” campaign. This featured Ryan Seacrest who hosted in Rio. Many other social media influencers were also on site, and they were participating in panels and games. The goal for NBC was to engage viewers over social media while the opening ceremonies were being broadcasted on TV. NBC was posting behind-the-scenes content on their social accounts all day, and so were the influencers who were present. It gave an added bonus to anyone who followed NBC or one on the influencers, and it also encouraged people to tune in to watch the opening ceremonies on TV.


NBC’s third segment of their influencer marketing campaign consisted of playlists shared on Spotify. This is a different spin to influencer marketing that we don’t frequently see. They engaged musicians who created playlists that were inspired by the Rio Olympics. They then shared the playlists on their other social accounts as well to get their audiences excited about Rio 2016.

NBC incorporated a wide variety of influencer marketing campaigns for Rio. They engaged influencers across all social media networks and from multiple different markets.

Are Athletes Influencers or Celebrities?

A constant debate in influencer marketing is where athletes fall on the scale between influencers and celebrities. They generally have a highly engaged audience, but at the same time, they did not get their large social media following simply because they have high-quality content. Opendorse explains it well: “athletes and celebrities have never (or rarely) been tasked with creating high-quality content. Because of this, careless campaigns can be perceived as inauthentic and actually turn off the audience”.

Engaging athletes also complicates your campaign near Rio. If you want to continue a non-Olympics related campaign during the blackout that features an athlete competing in Rio then you still need to obtain special permission from the Olympic committee. Campaigns must have begun before a specific date to be granted permission, and many smaller brands don’t have the budget to be an official sponsor.

Social media influencers are generally easier to engage than popular athletes. Standout athletes are in high demand, especially during an Olympic year. Many brands will want to sponsor the big athletes, and this makes it very costly for the brand to try to secure them. Influencers exist on social media in a wide variety of niche markets. You will be able to find someone on social media who has similar audience demographics and interests to the athlete you like, but they will cost much less to engage and you will likely see more engagement and better results. Another benefit of engaging social media influencers is that you are not as restricted as you are with athletes. Influencers do not need to worry about rules surrounding advertising as athletes do.

If you want to capitalize on marketing around huge events such as the Olympics, then your brand should consider adding influencer marketing to their marketing mix. No matter the size of your brand, there are influencers out there who would be a perfect fit for you. As you’re watching the games make sure you pay special attention to social media to see which other companies have engaged influencers.

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Who do you think had the best influencer marketing campaign for Rio 2016?