Going for gold: Navigating Olympics advertising, marketing and publicity

Written by April Thomas and Marcela Balart

After four, sorry three, years the 2024 Paris Olympic Games is just weeks away. Millions of Australians will be tuned in to watch our athletes do the nation proud so, naturally, it seems like a great opportunity for brands to capitalise on the nation’s increased patriotism through an Olympic-themed marketing campaign. 

But it will cost you. After all, the Olympic Games is a multi-billion-dollar entity. In Australia, the rights to use the official rings is estimated to cost anywhere from $250,000 to upwards of $5 million.  

Special Counsel for Seneworth Legal Partners, April Thomas, spoke to IMPACT to highlight the strict rules in place around what you can and can’t do when advertising or promoting your brand in connection with the Olympic brand.  

Official sponsor vs non-sponsors  

The best (and arguably only) way to get in on the fun of an Olympic year is become an official sponsor. That’s because all Olympic imagery is protected by copyright and trademark law.  

The law also prevents anyone who’s not an official sponsor from using the terms “Olympic”, “Olympiad”, “Olympian” and “Olympic Games” and any associated terms.  

As an official sponsor, you have paid to get access to those terms and images to use in your marketing. Unfortunately, anyone who’s not an official sponsor is banned from using those terms and images.  

I’m NOT an official sponsor – what can I say?  

This is the category that most brands will fall into. Unfortunately, this means that you cannot do any of the following for commercial purposes or in association with any goods or services, without the permission of the IOC or AOC, including: 

  • Use any Olympic imagery (including the rings)  
  • Use any protected expressions (including “Olympic” “Olympiad”, “Olympian”, “Olympic games” and any similar phrases), and 
  • Use any other visual cues or words to imply a link between your brand and the Olympics. 

Any non-sponsors attempting to reference the Olympics – even if it’s just a one-off post or passing mention in an ad – could be exposed to risk. This is because you could be inadvertently creating an association between your brand and the Olympics, which is a privilege reserved for official sponsors that have paid for the right. 

As a non-sponsor is there anything I can do to show support for the Olympics? 

As a non-sponsor you can either ask the IOC or AOC for permission and become an official sponsor or make content that doesn’t specifically reference the Olympics but promotes sports more generally.  

While you can’t use any references to the Olympics, your brand may be able to make content that: 

  • is very generalised (e.g. to sport or athletes in general) 
  • focuses on the local team or players only (but no Olympic team uniforms or references can be made) 
  • uses a past Olympian who isn’t in this year’s games (but again no reference is made to the games can be made), or 
  • makes references to “spirit”, “gold” or “glory” or “Aussies”. 

Remember, context is key and there is a fine line between showing general enthusiasm for sport versus promoting the Olympic Games in some way.  

You need to be very careful that none of your content implies an endorsement with the Olympics. If you want to try making more generalised content for the Games, exercise extreme caution.  

‘O’ is for official  

The key takeaway is if you are an official sponsor, you can reference the Olympics pursuant to any agreement you may have with the IOC.  

For everyone else, using Olympic imagery or protected expressions are prohibited. Instead, you can either become an official sponsor or make a general campaign that doesn’t use Olympic terms and collateral.  

However, if you decide to make a general campaign, consider seeking legal advice to make sure you don’t accidentally imply that you’re an official sponsor.  






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