Do You Know The Rules About Marketing Your Business And Referencing The Olympics

This blog is written with the intention to be informative about the IOC’s guidelines and exists only to inform business owners of the responsibilities and regulations around using any Trademarked collateral.

So things are kicking off in Japan and businesses around the world have gone sport-mad with their marketing. But, did you know that there are some pretty strict guidelines about what you can and can’t do when referencing the Olympics in your small business marketing? In fact, they make it pretty difficult to use the events to promote your business.

So much so, that most advertising and marketing strategists would actually advise against using the Olympics in marketing. It’s a minefield that takes too long to navigate. These references are only really allowed to be used freely by mainstream news channels and the general public.

The reason? There are paid sponsors who pay a healthy sum to be associated with the IOC and be officially recognised as associated with the Games and as such the right to use this IP depends on paying for the privilege.

There is obviously a massive question about how this can be enforced, but that’s for someone in a different industry. Heck, I’m breaking the rules just writing this. Crosses fingers for no cease & desist.

These rules and regulations seem bizarre and intense, but it’s worth remembering that this applies to businesses only and commercial entities whose primary purpose is the sale of goods and services. If you’re just a person, go ham with the hashtags on your Instagram.

What you need to know about using the Tokyo Olympics in your marketing.

My tip? Don’t.

[Want the full, official guidelines? Click here.]


Express references to the Olympics are prohibited. References to the ‘spirit’ of the games should also be carefully used to avoid being construed as an official partner of the games.

Well, actually there are a heap of words you’d think “Well, they’re just words, right?” but they’re actually protected IP and you can’t use them in your marketing. These include words* such as:

‘Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games’

‘Tokyo 2020’




‘Olympic Flame’ or ‘Olympic Torch’

Mind blown, right?

How are you meant to reference this event without even using it’s name?!

In short, you’re not.

You shouldn’t use any IP-protected words or phrases in imagery, in copy or technically even in your social media hashtags.

The London 2021 Olympic Games determined words such as ‘Games’, ‘Two Thousand and Twelve’ (!?!) ‘Medals’, ‘Gold’, ‘Silver’, ‘Bronze’ could all be taken into account when determining whether a brand was trying to associate itself with the Olympic Games.

Maybe now you know this, you’ll notice that Woolworths’ current campaign is called: “Woolworths Aussie Heroes”. Quite intentionally not referring to any IP protected collateral in their copy. Where they do reference the rings and the logo? It’s the Australian Team Logo, not the IOC’s and that is sure to be IP protected too.

You could use phrases like “Going for gold’ but even these lower risk alternatives should be carefully assessed.

*Note this list is not exhaustive, please check out the full guidelines for more details.


Do not take part in so-called ‘Ambush Marketing’ unless you’re really, really sure you’re compliant and don’t walk blindly into doing so. There are strict guidelines about Ambush Marketing.

WTF is ‘Ambush Marketing’?

Ambush Marketing is defined by the IOC as:

“A planned attempt by a third party to associate directly or indirectly with the Olympic Games to gain the recognition and benefits with being an Olympic partner [without being an Olympic partner]…Ambush marketing is equated to cheating and causes damage to the Olympic Movement by devaluing the Olympic brand.”

Essentially if you try and piggy-back onto the event to sell your product, even if indirectly, you can be accused of Ambush Marketing.

There are some truly brilliant examples of brands using Ambush marketing successfully but you have to be very careful. This usually happens with bigger brands who can either a) afford the fine and that risk is worth it or b) they have the legal support to determine if they are running a compliant campaign.

For example, the Super Bowl will often have ads in the breaks that don’t reference the Super Bowl itself, the game or the players because they’re not official sponsors but you know they’re giving you an ad that’s directly related to the Super Bowl.

Another good example is AIG and their adverts around the Japan Rugby World Cup. As the sponsor of the All Blacks they are 100% OK to show ads promoting the All Blacks. But they can’t reference the RWC as a non-sponsor of the event. They released a memorable and funny rugby-themed advert “How not to drive in Japan” that promoted its car insurance without referencing the RWC explicitly at any point. (Very clever).

OK, as a small biz owner you’re unlikely to also be an athlete or team sponsor 🙈 but I thought this would be interesting to see how it’s done.

But what you may be thinking of doing which technically could be defined as Ambush Marketing.

  • You’re an electronics store and you position advertising or suggest in copy that you should buy a TV to watch the Olympics.

  • You’re a kids toy retailer and you suggest to parents a fun weekend activity would be hosting your own Olympics at home by buying your products.

  • You decide to run a sweepstake or giveaway to celebrate the Olympics on your social media – whether the prize is directly or indirectly related to the Olympics.

  • You create words such as the Kids Dinner-lympics, basically anything with the ‘lympic’ or ‘lympics’ as part of the word.


This is the one that I would imagine most business owners are across and aware of. You can’t use the protected brand marks of the Olympics, Paralympics and the Tokyo Olympic Games.

What you may not know is that you also can’t use the colours of the Olympic Rings in the same way to suggest an association to the Olympics (this falls into Ambush Marketing – see above).

It’s important to know that whether or not you’re infringing IP is determined collectively. This means whilst you may make one statement which is OK, the collective statements you’ve made (which may be all OK individually) when combined are considered to be an infringement. If you have any questions at all I would always suggest talking to a lawyer and getting legal advice. Dear Charlie Marketing provide no guarantee that you’ll be legally compliant, we do not offer any legal advice and have no responsibility for the compliance of your marketing.