Digital marketing: The gold standard of trademark deals

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By Regina Gilloon-Meyer

Did you watch any of the Olympics online? If so, you’re certainly not alone.

Although traditional television viewership fell overall, digital consumption grew to record levels. According to Nielsen, the first 10 days of competition produced more than two billion minutes of online viewership. That’s a lot of eyeballs and, not surprisingly, businesses of all kind were interested in basking in the glow of the Olympic party.

But in typical Cinderella fashion, businesses that were not official sponsors of the Olympics — most of them — and non-NBC news organizations had to get pretty creative about how they would get to the ball without tripping over the very restrictive rules put into place by the International Olympic Committee and NBC Universal.

How restrictive? Very. The IOC’s rules prohibited the use trademarked phrases as common as “Olympic,” “Go for the Gold,” “Team USA” or even “Let the games begin,” a phrase attributed to the first Olympic Games held by the ancient Greeks in 776 BC. Even references to the location and year of the games such as Road to Rio, Rio 2016 and Pyeonchange 2018 were off limits.

Creative Solutions

Of course, with a prize this size, many outlets found legal, creative ways to get to the dance. After all, thumbing one’s virtual nose at the rules in cyberspace is practically an Olympic sport in its own right these days.

News organizations resorted to drawing stick figures to illustrate the athletes and games. Others re-imagined the iconic circles of the Olympic logo with a variety of images and icons.

Visually, many indulged creating memes of Olympic athletes and situations, and larger advertisers created a slew of somewhat cryptic ads using Olympic athletes that only alluded to the games while never using its name.

Serious Business

What’s the worst that could happen if a business stepped out of line? According to the International Trademark Association, by law, the USOC may file a civil action against unauthorized use of Olympic trademarks.

Consequences could include civil penalties, criminal penalties, and award of attorneys’ fees and wrongful profits. For most companies, just defending against these types of legal action, even if you win, is cost-prohibitive.

Not Just the Olympics

Of course, the Olympics aren’t the only place where trademark, copyright and intellectual-property issues arise for businesses and marketers.

This year, the network have their own rights deals for political debates. For sports marketing, the Big Ten Channel and ESPN have struck a new deal that may well likely restrict how game footage, video, mentions of or use of logos and stories may get a business into trouble.

Your takeaway — whoever is handling your digital marketing must be aware of the danger zones and know what they legally can and can’t use. As many political figures are finding out these days, blaming the intern for a bad tweet or questionable social media post won’t get you off the hook.

This applies to everything, from the use of images — just because you found it on Google doesn’t mean it’s not covered by copyright — to the use of other brands’ logos and stories. No matter what platform you are using for your marketing, you still need to follow the rules of the game.

l Regina Gilloon-Meyer is a content marketing specialist for Fusionfarm, a division of The Gazette Company; (319) 368-8530;; @Regiimary

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