On August 5th, the Olympic Cauldron will be lit and, despite a lot of drama, the 2016 Summer Olympics will officially begin. For 16 days the world will watch as the best athletes compete to bring their country glory.

Brands worldwide will be having a different kind of competition for share of voice within the Olympic conversation on social media. But if your brand is not paying millions of dollars for an Olympic sponsorship spot, then you need to familiarize yourself with what you can and cannot say when posting on social this month.


Why do you need to pay attention?  The International Olympic Council is threatening legal action for anyone infringing on their trademarks (a list more extensive than you might think) on social media. This year the United States Olympic Council (USOC) sent out letters to many corporations, primarily targeting sponsors of athletes, to inform them of what they cannot say.


ESPN shared some excerpts from the letter they received from Lisa Baird, USOC’s CMO. In it, Baird says, “Commercial entities may not post about the Trials or Games on their corporate social media accounts. This restriction includes the use of USOC’s trademarks in hashtags such as #Rio2016 or #TeamUSA.”

While this is far from the first time the Olympic Committee has cracked down on trademarks (e.g. The Zippo Scandal of 2014), they are continuing to get more strict. Now you cannot imply that your brand is, in any way, associated with the Olympics unless you are an Olympic Sponsor. This doesn’t mean your brand has to go dark for the next couple weeks online, or even that you can’t join in on the conversation, it just means you need to be very careful. Here’s a list of things you can and cannot do as a brand on social:



  • Say “the Olympics” or any version of the word: Olympic, Olympiads, Olympiad, or even “the Games”.
  • Use the trademarked hashtags: “#Rio2016” or “#TeamUSA.”
  • Use more general but relevant words in the context of the Olympic Games, like: 2016, Rio, Rio de Janeiro, Gold, Silver, Bronze, Medal, Performance, Sponsors,Victory, Summer, or Games. For example, you cannot say “Go for the Gold!”
  • Use or reference any trademarked designs like the: Rings, Logo, Mascot, or Torch. No, not even if the rings are made out of donuts, condensation from soda cans…nothing.
  • Use any images taken at the Olympics.
  • Make up your own words that still make it seem like you are referencing the Olympics, like “Shoplympics”.
  • Talk about or show Olympic athletes or results.
  • Retweet or repost anything from the official Olympic social accounts.

At this point, you might be thinking, “So… what can I do?” 


Great question. Stick to your brand and your brand’s social voice and talk about this cultural event in a more subtle and clever way. If you are a CPG food product, talk about TV viewing party-friendly or sports themed snack food ideas. If you are an athletic wear company, play on the fact that people are probably feeling a little inspired right about now.

So this year, let us all revel in the athleticism of mankind, have some fun, and most importantly, not get sued by the International Olympic Committee. For further questions or simply to rant about how ridiculous you feel this is, send me an email, or tweet at ISL.