Don't Say "Olympics" or You Could Be in Hot Water

IMGCAP(1)]The opening ceremonies of the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio will be airing this Friday evening.

Expected to be filled with much pomp and circumstance, the initial celebration is likely to inspire many of you to join in the online revelry by posting on your Facebook page about the costumes or tweeting about the incredible pageantry. Just make sure that however you participate, you use your personal social media account. Your firm could be in a heap of trouble if you tweet about #TeamUSA, post a photo to Facebook of the Olympic rings or even mention the term “Olympics” from your firm’s accounts.

As recently reported by ESPN, businesses that are not official sponsors of the Olympics are prohibited from using U.S. Olympic Committee trademarked terms, images or really anything officially Olympics-related: “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.”

Are you able to post about the Olympics at all without getting a Cease and Desist letter from the U.S. Olympic Committee? Not when you use these terms, according to the U.S. Olympic brand usage guidelines:

* Olympic
* Olympian
* Team USA
* Future Olympian
* Gateway to Gold
* Go for the Gold
* Going for the Gold
* Let the Games Begin
* Olympiad
* Road to Rio (or Pyeongchang, Tokyo, etc.)
* Rio 2016 (or Pyeongchang, Tokyo, etc.)
* Any word with “-lympic” in it, like Mathlympics
* Any variation of these terms that are a reference to the event

Given the stringent rules about the usage of trademarked words, it should obviously go without saying that you can’t use any of the images associated with the Olympics either. This includes versions you may create that play off the Olympic rings, torch, you name it, which means you can’t even do anything internal to your firm that references the games. And according to AdWeek, it also means you can’t use any photos from the Olympics, no matter the source.

The rules are strict, but you understand trademark laws and can respect those—fair enough. Since your firm can’t create its own Olympics content, you can just retweet and share posts about the Olympics and call it a day, right? Wrong again. Not only do the brand trademarks apply to creating original content, you’re not even allowed to share content. Want to retweet that amazing medal stand photo shared by an official Olympic sponsor? Can’t do it. Want to share that link on the heart-warming story of an Olympic hopeful that Team USA put on Facebook? Too bad. Sort of takes the “social” out of social media, doesn’t it?

If you’ve been planning to have a campaign around the Olympics for your firm through its social media accounts, it’s best to shelve that idea for now. While it’s doubtful the USOC is going to hunt down every business that steps over the line, now that you know the rules, you should play by them. These rules do not apply to media outlets (hence this article is able to make reference to these terms) or individuals. So if you have personal social media accounts, by all means, please live tweet your reactions to the games and athletes. Share the amazing stories of underdogs who discovered they could push themselves higher, faster, stronger. Just don’t do it under the mantle of your firm or you could be hearing from the USOC.

Kelly Googe Lucas is the client marketing director for bbr marketing. In this role she assists clients with overall marketing strategy and planning, copywriting, social media and project management. You can learn more by visiting their Web site at

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