Sky-kissing snowboarders are stealing early thunder in Sochi, but the makers of their rides are stealthily winning the Games’ logo war by bathing the boards’ undersides in colorful, large and eye-popping lettering, branding experts say.
American Jamie Anderson frequently flashed a GNU emblem that spans half of her board bottom while soaring toward slopestyle gold Sunday. Canadian Mark McMorris similarly blazed the Burton label that eats up the full belly of his board as he grabbed bronze on the men’s side of the event. On Tuesday, Iouri Podladtchikov, of Switzerland, shredded to gold in the men's halfpipe, spinning atop a Quiksilver board with, ironically, the smallest logo in the competition.
But do the rest of the vibriant corporate imprints violate the Olympic charter?
"They're actually breaking the (logo) rules, and it's brilliant," said Dean Crutchfield, a New York-based brand consultant. "These companies have been getting the perfect (logo) placements. They're the ones getting everybody abuzz. It's inspired thinking."
Leave it to the snowboarding world to play fast and loose. The Olympic Charter covering advertising at the Games is quite precise. No “publicity, propaganda or commercial” can appear on athletes, their sportswear, or their accessories. Only their gear maker’s name is allowed to show. And under the charter’s rule No. 50: “Any manufacturer’s identification that is greater than 10 percent of the surface area of the equipment that is exposed during competition shall be deemed to be marked conspicuously.”
McMorris’ board is technically half slathered by a logo, and Anderson’s stick is roughly one-quarter covered. Many riders push the emblem envelope closer to 50 percent: Great Britain’s Jamie Nicholls (Salomon), Ireland’s Seamus O’Connor (Ride) and Russia’s Alexey Sobolev (StepChild), all have manufacturer names across the board bottoms.
The International Olympic Committee has not yet responded to an email from NBC News asking about the 10 percent rule and those snowboards. Officials from GNU and Burton similarly did not answer emails seeking comment.
“In this Olympics, the advertising on the bottom of the boards is really impactful – so many TV cameras and angles that the pickup is superb,” said Robert Tuchman, president at sports branding agency Goviva in New York.
As Olympic branding potential goes, figure skating certainly makes stars of many medalists, fueled by typically primetime audiences and several consecutive minutes of close-up camera time. But can you recall the last logo you spotted on a man or woman spinning at mid ice? Nope, just sequins and ruffles.
“Snowboarding ... branding is so prevalent and in your face,” Tuchman said. “Also the demographic who follow the sport are highly desirable, and the sport itself is more popular here in the U.S. than the majority of other Olympic sports. It’s also made for TV, which is where sponsorship value is mainly derived.”
But one Olympic sport, Crutchfield contends, seems to be missing a built-in logo advantage: Skeleton. The first icy slides in that competition are Feb. 12. The riders all steer their sleds while lying face-first on their stomachs.
“I’d been interested in why the manufacturers don’t put their logos on the butts,” Crutchfield said. “There’s an untapped opportunity in the derriere area.”