Brand Engagement, Sports Marketing | Aug 3, 2016
How to promote your athletes without mentioning the Olympics

Last year, the International Olympic Committee changed some of its advertising guidelines, bringing in ‘unofficial sponsorship’, and therefore opening up opportunities to more companies. Unofficial sponsors had to apply through the US Olympic Committee by January 2016 to run any ads anywhere featuring the Olympians.

The unofficial sponsor also had to pledge to run their ads continuously from the end of March until the games. Additionally, the ads can’t use any Olympics branding or related words. The US Olympic Committee said the change was “a new opportunity for athletes to keep their long-term relationships with companies going during the games.”  In the past, athletes couldn’t appear in commercials for unofficial sponsors during this period.

Leaders has collated some of the best examples of brands marketing within the new guidelines.


Under Armour

Under Armour’s latest “Rule Yourself” campaign focuses on the message: “It’s what you do in the dark that puts you in the light.”

The series of adverts featuring the likes of Michael Phelps, The USA Women’s Gymnastics Team and Memphis Depay takes the viewpoint of the athletes emphasising their single-minded training regimes, in relentless pursuit of reaching the pinnacle of their individual sports.

Michael Phelps, who retired in 2012 with a haul of 18 Gold medals, has returned in 2016 for one last shot at glory at risk of damaging his flawless legacy. You can also see the emotional impact of the film when Under Armour released behind the scenes footage of Phelps and his fiancée seeing the clip for the first time.



Citi’s national campaign message “Stand for Progress” features five Olympians, including Gabby Douglas and Nathan Adrian, as well as three Paralympians including Rudy Garcia-Tolson and aims to inspire people to “set goals alongside America’s elite athletes.”

Citi’s managing director of global sponsorships explained that following London 2012 and the Sochi Olympic Winter Games in 2014 there was a belief their ‘Every Step of the Way’ campaign didn’t have enough of a tie to the brand.

“I think people need to understand why Citi is a Team USA sponsor,” said Davis. “We like what the Olympics stands for: progress, community and inclusiveness. And at Citi, enabling progress and growth is our business. So this year, we want to enable the overall positioning of ‘progress’ and highlight this empowerment of our program.”



Gatorade have taken an alternative and original approach to their 2016 ‘For the Love of Sports’ campaign featuring a 7 minute long animation, focusing on the rise of global superstar Usain Bolt from his Jamaican roots to Olympic Champion and 100m and 200m World Record Holder. The campaign explores the impact sports can have on younger generations’ lives through telling the stories of athletes.

The film ‘The Boy Who Learned to Fly” was produced by Moonbot Studios. It appeals to a broad audience and aims to engage children to follow the exploits of their new animated hero in the flesh throughout the games. Interestingly apart from a Gatorade bottle and logo that takes centre stage at the end of the film, the brand is not highlighted, keeping the advert genuine and pure.



GoPro has partnered with four time Olympic gold winning swimmer Missy Franklin who at the tender age of 17 was one of the leading Olympic gold medalists in 2012. With the help of a GoPro camera, she is able to give a behind the scenes account of her life called Finding Missy.

Missy’s huge social following (800,000 followers across all social media platforms) made her a perfect fit for GoPro’s digital content and has allowed her to connect on a deeper level with an already engaged fan base.

Giving fans behind the scenes access to an Olympic athlete who trains for 4 years for a shot at claiming medals, unleashes a goldmine of footage. GoPro’s are an ideal suitor to create this content due to their ability to give viewpoints from not only day to day but also in the pool.


Sign up to our newsletters

To ensure you’re keeping up to date with the latest intelligence, sign up (for free) to receive newsletters. Get exclusive insight from top organisations worldwide on leadership & culture, human performance, coaching & development and data & innovation.


Become a member

Join our exclusive community of leading global performance organisations to target all aspects of high performance and challenge thinking with access to game-changing knowledge, connections and perspectives that can’t be found anywhere else.

Become a member