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Nike vs. Under Armour: Olympics Advertising Edition

July 27 2016 by Ken Roberts

Last month we took a look at Nike and Under Armour digital advertising--what vehicles they use, how each is buying (direct vs. indirect), and which sites they are targeting. We'll be watching them again this summer with an eye towards Rio.

The extra dimension this summer is not soley Olympics advertising tie-ins, though. There's also the stir created by the IOC 'Rule 40' changes to the blackout rules for using Olympic athletes in ads during the games.

Reuters has noted that Under Armour will be the brand to watch for the effects of the changes to Rule 40. With Michael Phelps, and Under Armour's family of over 200 athletes, the company is looking at a range of tactics to connect their brand to the Olympics without directly sponsoring the games in Rio.


These changes end a marketing blackout during the games for companies who sponsor athletes and not the event itself. According to the USOC Rule 40/IPC Athlete Image Policy Guidance, the rule changes are intended to

"... enable continuation of in-market generic advertising featuring Rio Games participants during the Games period, thereby eliminating a significant source of athlete dissatisfaction and disruption to athlete sponsors."

The rules also try to protect the rights of sponsors. But official sponsors surely worry that the rule change will depreciate their huge investments--whether or not there are specific infractions by non-sponsor companies.

Under Armour is not a Rio sponsor. Nike is both a Supplier of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games and a Domestic Sponsor of Team USA. Sponsors pay tens of millions for the rights to use Olympic intellectual property and terms in their advertising.

The rule changes allow for "generic advertising," which means no direct or indirect association to the Rio games, Olympic/Paralympic intellectual property, or any terms generally associated with the Olympic/Paralympic games. Also, campaign concepts had to be submitted for approval six months in advance, and must have been in market and running continuously starting four months before the blackout period. For the Olympics, that means campaigns running by March 27, 2016.

With those deadlines in mind, here we look at four of the athletes with Under Armour that were in-flight earlier this year and last fall. These represent the potential lineup of campaigns that could continue during the blackout (July 27 – August 24, 2016).

Michael Phelps

Michael Phelps has been a big bet for Under Armour. They jet set him around from their own media events to the USOC event as pretty much the face of Rule 40 marketing.  

He is one of the many athletes featured in the Under Armour "RULE YOURSELF. I WILL" campaign. The video below is one of a number featuring Phelps. It was first seen on March 8 of 2016, before the March 27 deadline for flight.

Top sites for this video have been

  • allmusic.com
  • complex.com
  • sneakernews.com
  • livemixtapes.comsportingnews.com
  • chicagotribune.com (Tribune Media)
  • latimes.com (Tribune Media)
  • nj.com
  • boston.com

Team USA Women's Gymnastics

"RULE YOURSELF. I WILL" creatives include Team USA Women's Gymnastics stars too. These ads have been running since at least February of 2016.


Stephen Curry sitting this one out 

Steph Curry has been "ruling" it for Under Armour for some time. But in June the Golden State Warriors guard announced he was skipping the Rio games. Curry will be resting his knee—both pictured below—which he sprained in the first round of the NBA playoffs against the Houston Rockets. 

We still expect to see Stephen all over the web with Under Armour.

Mikaela Mayer fights her way onto Team USA

In March 2016, Mikaela Mayer qualified for the 2016 team after finishing as a runner up in 2012.

Mikaela has been in UA spots for the brand's Muhammad Ali collection, along with Canelo Alvarez and other boxers.

"It'll make your head spin"

Peter Carlisle, Michael Phelps representative and an agent at Octagon, predicted that there will be so many violations of the new rule, "it'll make your head spin." 

The IOC stated that, "if there is a concerted effort to create an unauthorized commercial association with the Olympic Games or the Olympic properties, then we will take swift action." And the USOC plans to police marketing activity.

But they did not detail enforcement plans.

The rest of us? We can watch the ad action with Pathmatics!

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About Author
Ken Roberts

Ken Roberts has been immersed in marketing and technology for over a decade, merging creative strategies with the latest technology, to bring products together with the people who need them. With degrees in Engineering, Computer Science and an MBA, Ken’s background in product management, marketing, sales, analytics and technology lends to his ability to attack product challenges on multiple levels. Ken began his career developing software solutions for medical records before transitioning to marketing. Ken focused on building marketing departments and operating in-house agencies. Ken’s experience with digital platforms, internet based marketing, lead scoring and business intelligence, and reporting, as well as a keen market understanding, are a welcome addition to Pathmatics, only matched by a leadership philosophy that encourages high creativity and ownership from his team.

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