road to rio“…Try as the powers might to censor us, control us, ice us out, tamp us down, keep us quiet…a small group of passionate people cannot be stopped…” @oiselle

The current media landscape is continuously changing and being redefined, and many are struggling to keep up. Consumers have more influence on public opinion than ever before, and organizations must learn to be thoughtful in navigating this new brand-consumer relationship.

For example, it’s not news that the upcoming Olympics in Rio have gotten some negative attention over the last few months. From corruption, security concerns and water contamination, to Russian doping, the Zika virus, and Olympic Village safety concerns, there has been little positive publicity for the world’s largest and most visible sports competitions, which are right around the corner.

The International Olympics Committee (IOC) has been fighting an uphill battle in global communications. Despite the waves of negative media coverage, rather than embrace positive consumer and brand relationships, the organization has focused on tight policing of social media and advertising.

Look at the IOC’s response to Oiselle, a premium women’s athletic apparel company sponsoring 15 Olympic hopefuls this year. The company recently Tweeted about the women’s track trials, including photos of the runners they sponsor in action. Great publicity for the games, right? Not in the IOC’s eyes. Oiselle was almost immediately required to remove these posts from Twitter, since they did not comply with Rule 40. This rule used to prohibit athletes from using their names for advertising for about one month around the games, but now allows “generic” or “non-Olympic advertising” during the games.

This situation is no doubt complicated by the Games’ paid relationships with official sponsors, and the specific promotional rights for which the IOC receives millions of dollars. However, the extent to which the IOC is controlling any thin connection one might make to the Games may be having the opposite effect of devaluing the brand for the very sponsors it is seeking to protect. For example, prohibition of using “words like ‘medal’ or ‘summer’ in a context that implies the Olympics.”

The IOC is fueling its own fire of negativity on Twitter. With an average of 6,000 tweets per second, Twitter is reaching more people than ever before. So, rather than causing explosive backlash by issuing a “stark warning to non-official sponsors over ad plans,” this year especially the IOC should consider accepting and embracing any positive publicity the Olympics are fortunate enough to receive at the moment. While they claim to simply be reinforcing their regulations, the IOC can learn from these Games that it may be worth it to bend the rules sometimes and to think about what responsibility for the Olympic brand really means.

-Alaina Shulman

Image via Wikimedia Commons