There are less than 100 days to the Rio sportsfest. Which is good or bad news depending on your point of view. But because the Olympics is the world’s biggest peacetime media event, journalists and commentators everywhere are looking for angles, themes and memes.
We immersed ourselves in tracking social media performance during the London Olympics in 2012, and, looking back at our ‘Socialympics’ analysis, there is a lot that still feels very familiar.
For sports writers, the commentary largely writes itself. Who’s qualified, who’s out, etc. – all with a large dose of that hardy perennial of modern sport, doping. Some countries’ entire track and field teams are already under threat of bans.
General news media are spoilt for choice. Rio has now familiar stories about failure to build proper infrastructure, the financial strain on a recession-hit country, and corruption in high places, with the perfectly-timed Dilmagate impeachment scandal to add political spice. On top of that, the Zika epidemic threatens team and individual stay-aways. Plus Rio’s got something something especially smelly: raw sewage and household rubbish on beaches, in waterways and in designated sailing areas. Will sailors, ocean swimmers and others risk their health?
Marketing commentators too want their angle. If London was the ‘socialymics’, what will Rio be?
Over the last four years, well-established players like Facebook and Twitter have grown – and even faster-growing mobile apps like Instagram, Whatsapp and Snapchat mean that social media will be even more prominent. But is there a game-changer?
Certainly there are interesting new platforms. Some, such as Meerkat, Periscope and Facebook Live, offer what many have considered a killer combo for sporting action, namely video live-streaming from mobile devices – whether smartphones, wearables, tablets and drones.
Can these make a real impact at Rio? The big gorilla is still live TV – with on-demand close behind. So, although a good deal more grown up, social media will still be very much the little sister when it comes to spend.
However, the usual Olympics-time topic of ‘ambush marketing’ could take on greater interest this time. Traditionally, IOC rules have meant that a select number of rich TOP brand sponsors, having paid handsomely to enter marketing heaven, could legally lock the door behind them, citing the infamous Rule 40 to impose a promotional blackout on non-Olympic team and individual sponsors during a window around the Games.
But social media could be easing that door ajar, with the interests of these TOP brands increasingly at odds with those of top sports professionals looking to cash in on their moments of fame. In 2012, Olympic athletes conducted a social media campaign of criticism about Rule 40, using the Twitter hashtag #wedemandchange. The IOC responded and a new Rule 40 came into effect from February 2015, greatly reducing the limitations on athletes and national Olympic committees. As brands experiment, might this greater freedom for ‘athlete self-expression’ include acknowledging an association with TOP brands’ focal competitors – such as Pepsi, MasterCard, Burger King, Subway, or adidas?
Of course officials will closely monitor ads for rule breaches. But the new Rule 40 combined with greater prevalence of social media and the new sports-friendly video platforms could mean the greatest ever opportunity for non-sponsors, especially via non-official, user-generated campaigns.
Perhaps, just perhaps, Rio may become known as the Ambush Games.