Comparing Branded Content Made By Official and Unofficial Olympic Sponsors

By Tom Bannister

In case you didn’t know, the Olympics begin this evening. This year, the International Olympics Committee (IOC) haa changed the rules, allowing non-Olympic sponsors to release marketing content starring Olympians during the blackout window (July 27 to August 24), so long as it adheres to a few rules. The most onerous of these rules govern social media posting. It is an attempt to reduce “ambush marketing,” a technique we saw in abundance at European cup, but it has drawn criticism as some brands and athletes are not now allowed to congratulate their sponsored athletes on social platforms, even if they win.

Other non-sponsor handcuffs include the requirement to apply to tje IOC before January 2016 and run any approved marketing materials from March onwards. As a result, we have seen and continue to see different non-official brands come up with clever ways to skirt these rules. Many, like Under Armour and its Michael Phelps film, released their content months ago. Others, like Dick’s Sporting Goods, are using long-form or tangential content that doesn’t mention the Olympics. Ad Age’s viral video chart this week is filled with non-sponsor sports-oriented viral films. Lastly, Google’s virtual reality guide to Rio doesn’t even mention sports, instead focusing on the city venue.

In terms of the official Olympics sponsors, although there are some innovative content examples such as Samsung’s virtual reality partnership with NBC, much of the official Olympic branded content has so far stuck to the 2 to 3-minute viral film formula that is beginning to feel a bit dated, given all the new media opportunities and channels. Many of these films are returning formats from previous Olympics or campaigns, such as Always’ #LikeAGirl or Procter and Gamble’s Thank You Mom. Some official Olympics sponsors have so far not utilized content marketing. For example, Dow Chemical is helping the IOC lower carbon emissions and Omega is the official time keeper, and it is likely that these, along with other official sponsors, will be debuting some of their tie-ins live or in social content once the games start, rather than in the run-up. Even though Zefr recently reported that there have been 7.8 billion views of Olympic related content in run up to games on YouTube, only 390 million of these have been on ads, which will likely become more relevant while the games are actually live.

Not every brand can be like Pokemon Go, for which the Mayor of Rio begged its developer Niantic on social media to have a Brazilian version of the game ready for the Games.

Here is a comparison of branded content projects by official and non-official sponsor:

Unofficial Sponsors:

Under Armour

The athletic clothing and accessories company debuted one of the most buzzed about branded content pieces, a long form ad, that apparently made Michael Phelps cry when he first saw it. The film is less focused on Olympics and more a celebration of Phelp’s career.

Dick’s Sporting Goods

It produced a long-form documentary called “Kerri Walsh Jennings: Gold Within,” broadcast by NBC last Sunday, which gives an intimate glimpse into how she balances motherhood and her sporting ambitions.


Last weekend, Google released its virtual reality project “Rio: Beyond The Map.” It begins with a 360-degree video of a motorcycle taxi ride through the São Carlos favela. Then Google combines its Street View technology with narration in virtual tours of more than 20 famous locations in Rio.


The game developer released a Rio Olympics edition of “Mario & Sonic.” This content most likely falls into the licensing rather than sponsorship category, but its still branded content, even if the intention is to sell and not promote.

United Airlines

The airline is an official sponsor of the Team USA, but not an official Olympics sponsor. It has a number of content initiatives including a themed safety video and a traditional ad.


Asics is continuing to launch branded content featuring their spokesperson, Olympian Jordon Burroughs.


After GoPro’s big success as a Tour De France sponsor, it will be interesting to see how the action camera maker capitalizes on its status as an unofficial sponsor of the Olympics. A few months back, it launched this docu-series, starring Missy Franklin, using Go-Pro in more of a traditional production camera role.

Official Sponsors:


The tech giant has multiple branded content initiatives, including the “School Of Rio” (a reality series format that began last year during the Rugby World Cup), virtual reality partnerships to stream the opening ceremony and, of course, its official long form ad, “The Chant.”

Proctor And Gamble

The consumer goods manufacturer has two returning short-form viral content formats: “#LikeAGirl,” an Olympics-themed continuation of their Cannes Lions-winning branded content franchis,e and “Thank You Mom,” a theme we saw them explore during the last Olympics with Olympian parent themed content.


The beverage maker’s Minute Made brand continues ots #doingood campaign with a Missy Franklin edition.

Visa Carpool

Visa follow in the footsteps of James Cordon with this carpool branded content.

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