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Virgin Media, Under Armour and more cash in on Rule 40 changes ahead of Rio 2016, whilst Oiselle takes a stand


Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, P&G and more have long benefitted from their official partnership with the Olympic Games, ruling the roost over non-official sponsors who – until now – have been prevented from using athletes in their marketing in the run up to and during the games.

However, thanks to recent changes by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) relaxing Rule 40 brands no longer have to be official sponsors of the games or Olympic teams (e.g. Team GB) to capitalise on the marketing opportunities afforded by the worldwide sporting spectacle.

Though non-official sponsors are still banned from using works such as ‘Olympic’, ‘gold’ and even ‘summer’ in their promotions as well as official hashtags, the changes to Rule 40 mean there is no longer a blackout period before and during the games preventing non-official sponsors from using athletes in their advertising, leading to many brands like Under Armour and Virgin Media, who previously missed out on using their high-profile Olympic ambassadors, to take advantage.

Here we take a look at some of the brands jumping on the Olympic bandwagon, and one which refused to conform.

Virgin Media

Virgin Media has taken advantage to the Rule 40 changes rolling out a campaign starring its long-time brand ambassador Usain Bolt. Created by BBH London, the ad shows what 9.58 seconds feels like, the amount of time it took Bolt to break the 100m world record in 2009. Directed by Seb Edwards and narrated by retired American Olympic sprinter Michael Johnson, ‘Be the Fastest’ claims “speed unlocks the difference that Virgin Media provides, and for Bolt, speed defines him.”

Under Armour

Swimmer Michael Phelps is one of many athletes who appear in Under Armour’s ongoing ‘Rule Yourself’ campaign. The Droga5-led ad, which broke in March of this year, shows Phelps in a different light than usual, swimming alone in a pool surrounded by darkness as ‘The Last Goodbye’ by The Kills plays, a nod to the swimmer’s fifth – and likely – final Olympics. Under Armour has also released two other spots under the ‘Rule Yourself’ tagline, one featuring the Olympic Gymnastics team and another with footballer Memphis Depay.


GoPro has focused on telling the compelling stories of Olympic athletes including track and field star Allison Stokke, Team USA diver Kristian Ipsen and British-born American fencer Miles Chamley-Watson in its 11-part original series ‘Two Roads’ which follows 11 athletes and one coach who have made the commitment to pursue greatness. And following her signing to the GoPro team in March the brand has also made the original series ‘Finding Missy’ starring Olympic Gold medallist Missy Franklin which gives fans a look into Franklin’s life as a world-class athlete, daughter and student.


Gatorade has also partnered with Usain Bolt ahead of the Olympics to create an animated origin story for the world’s fastest man. The seven-minute film, ‘The Boy Who Learned to Fly’, from the PepsiCo-owned brand follows Bolt’s journey from childhood dreamer to global superstar, tracing his humble beginnings in rural Jamaica to his position today as a worldwide sporting icon. The animated film was created by US multi-platform creative studio MoonBot Studios and TBWA\Chiat\Day.




Women’s running apparel brand Oiselle has taken umbrage with the relaxed Rule 40 guidelines. Despite creating a campaign featuring its athletes – Mel Lawrence, Kate Grace and Kara Goucher – and gaining approval from the US Olympic Committee, Oiselle revealed in a blog post by founder Sally Bergesen that it chose not to run the ads as after scrutinising Rule 40 further it deemed it merely forced small companies to spend “scarce marketing dollars on a campaign that does not have a focused or relevant message” thanks to the restricted terms including ‘Olympics’, ‘Olympiad’, ‘Rio’ and ‘Games’ amongst others.

To view more marketing insights into Rio 2016 visit The Drum’s Olympics hub here.

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