Kenyan Brands & The Olympics: The Winners & Losers

The Summer Olympics came round last month, and just like on the global scene, it took over Kenya’s social and media spheres for the duration of the event. The Olympics and other major sporting events have always presented a great opportunity for marketers to ride on the hype and excitement to further amplify their respective brands. The 2016 Rio Olympics was a particularly tricky one for marketers due to the murky set of regulations popularly known as Rule 40, which banned non-official partners from using Olympic footage and Olympic-themed content on social media. Below we review how Kenyan brands in particular treaded this thin line and who came out on top.

Commercial Brands

No local brands had official sponsorship rights to the Rio Olympics. This reality meant that any brand that dared to use the Olympics as a marketing platform had to get creative about it. As a result, this year saw a different kind of marketing as the brand creatives sought to outmaneuver Rule 40.

Among those was Blueband, who took full advantage of their ongoing association with Rudisha. David Rudisha isn’t only a household name in Kenyan and global athletics, but was also the most tweeted athlete in the country during the period. Blueband’s top tweet involved a custom photo of the athlete immediately after he won his medal:

Another brand that took advantage of the hype around the athlete was Kenya Airways. They used their unique position of ferrying Rudisha back home to take a photo with the triumphant athlete and his medal as he boarded their plane:

DSTV leveraged their rights to broadcast (via Supersport), and hence, unlike Zuku and other local digital television providers, was able to take advantage of the Olympic season. They did this by creating custom graphics that kept track of Kenya’s position on the Olympics medal table, and also urging Kenyans to cheer on their athletes.

Their top tweet consisted of one of those graphics, coupled with a link to a Thunderclap campaign to cheer on the athletes on digital:

One interesting tactic of note used by SuperSport, was the use of a Twitter bot to send short updates on the Olympics to users who retweeted a specific tweet.

Based on the retweet count, they seem to have hit gold with this approach. The @SupersportNews Twitter account has sent out over 123,000 updates to date.

Tecno Mobile, one of the leading mobile phone brands in Kenya is known for their question-like tweets, many of which involve a comparison, highlighting the differences between two or more of their phone models:

With the Olympics, they utilised the same approach, thereby making their tweets easily recognisable and improving brand recall:

The same was also very successful on Facebook, receiving over 500 comments in total:

Overall, our research shows that many Kenyan brands, including most of the Top 25 Kenyan Brands on Social Media chose the safe path and stayed away from Olympics-related content before, during and after the event. This, we believe, was mainly due to the frightening Rule 40. However valid a reason this was from a legal point of view, with a little creativity, Rule 40 was easily circumvented by the braver brand executives.

The Olympics come round only once every four years and in 2016, and our research shows that up to 68% of Kenyans online got their information about the Rio event through digital. This is a huge opportunity for any brand that is serious about digital. We saw several international brands (that were also non-official partners), like Under Armor, Dove, and Oiselle, circumvent the restrictions by creating content that focused on what the Olympics are truly about: stories of sacrifice, unity, empowerment, hope, training, support, competition, determination, and success. An opportunity to do the same was largely missed by local brands.


Our analysis of digital activity by local media houses during the Olympics period shows that all of them focused on mainstream news updates with regards to the Olympics.

While this approach makes absolute sense in light of the public’s thirst for information during the Olympics, we believe there was still an under-utilised opportunity for the media houses to do more. Being in the business of creating content and always looking to capture more eye balls for longer, the creation of interactive stories around Kenya’s rich Olympics heritage would have been a worthwhile differentiating endeavour. We have seen global media houses like NewYork Times, Washington Post, and The Guardian create great alternative narratives around the Olympics, while fully utilising digital story telling tools like data visualisation, video interactives, gifs, audio interactives and news bots.


Government players were also heavily involved in the Olympics conversation. Despite some unfortunate tweets by the Ministry of Sports and the subsequent fiasco that plagued the Kenyan team at the Rio Olympics, several Government of Kenya accounts managed to get very good traction on social.

The official Twitter account for the Government Spokesperson particularly stood out, with well received tweets throughout the period. They employed custom graphics, all similarly themed to announce and thank winners:

The handle also offered little known tidbits of information/insight about the athletes themselves. These were well received:

The President praised the athletes on Twitter for their wins, many-a-times expressing his pride in them:

The Vice President, who travelled to Rio to be with the athletes, took the opportunity to congratulate them as well, adding in photos of moments he’d shared with many of them, to further illustrate his pride: