The Olympics certainly are a double edged sword when it comes to marketing.
The rules and regulations are heavily enforced but not always widely understood.
In the UK there’s even the Olympics Symbol etc. (Protection) Act 1995 which means making mistakes with Olympic marketing may have very serious consequences.
The Olympics is a big money project and it is understandable why Locog works hard to try and enforce the rules and ensure they mean something.
David Moth recently noted that Twitter has agreed to stop non-sponsors buying games-related tags. There’s already an agreement in place with Foursquare to stop non-sponsors being active around the Olympic Park.
All this policing may not be enough though.
Digital is a fragmented landscape. Actually, “fragmented” doesn’t seem a powerful enough word, it’s an atomised landscape.
For every social network Locog might approach and strike an agreement with there remain plenty others that leave the door open.
There is also the genuine issue of user generated content and how it effects earned media during the Olympics.
Let’s use fictional brands for this example, but it seems all too likely for me that plenty of Foursquare users might check into Hotel Londpex, leave an Olympics related comment and tweet it.
Spectators might well use Facebook or Foursquare to leave comments like “I wish they had ‘Fizz Soda’ here” at official Olympic venues where ‘Fizz Soda’ wasn’t a sponsor.
It’s very common to see tweets from people tuning in or turning off any given TV programme. I predict plenty of tweets that mention “Olympics” or a specific contest while also mentioning a computer game or rival TV program.
Rumours will whirl around the social space as to whether celeb athletes are out and about in London and where they might be. This is all social and local marketing gold.
As Locog cracks down on official forms of advertising and tackles ambush marketing the value of these UGC references rises. Scarcity drives demand. It might well then occur to brands they can deploy sock puppets to ensure that these social mentions happen and happen in a favourable way.
A sock puppet is essentially a fake profile on a popular social network, forum or any other media asset where you can log in and comment. Sock puppets are cheap (free) and disposable. Bad sock puppets are easy to spot. Good sock puppets are almost impossible to spot. If you’ve not met someone in real life – they might still be a sock puppet.
Sock puppets feel like a low risk and high reward effort for anyone willing to risk wrestling with Locog and giving some guerrilla marketing a go. It’s very easy to deny all knowledge of any sock puppet and simple steps – like not accessing the account from a corporate IP address – may be enough to defeat the investigations of the platforms themselves.
I confidently predict plenty of sock puppet activity during the 2012 Olympics. I don’t want it to happen. I don’t want fake followers. The questions are whether we’ll notice it, suspect it or prove it.
A bigger question is whether social media’s influence over the Olympics will result in a re-evaluation of the Olympic marketing rules.
Photo credit: Amy van der Hiel