Mysterious billboards pop up at the track trials
The anonymous campaign protests a rule for the Olympics
August 15, 2016
At the U.S. Olympic Trials for track and field last month, fans and athletes noticed bright yellow mobile billboards with cryptic messages around Eugene, Oregon.
One board on the side of a truck read, “Who are you cheering for? The powers that be or the athletes that do?”
Another billboard read, “This is the road to somewhere, but we’re not allowed to say where. Or who’s on it.”
The signs referenced no sponsor and no product. Instead, they directed people to the website Rule40.com to learn more.
Who was behind the stunt and what was it about?
Running gear brand Brooks Sports, as it turns out. The campaign was protesting the International Olympic Committee’s Rule 40, which bans athletes and their sponsors from mentioning each other between July 27 and Aug. 4, the days leading up to the Games.
Cloaking the stunt in secrecy seemed to earn attention Brooks otherwise would not have received from a simple “the IOC stinks” campaign.
What was promoted
The website Rule40.com, a site launched to put an end to Rule 40.
Here’s why Rule 40 is so controversial: The IOC doesn’t want non-sponsors of The Games hijacking attention from brands that have paid millions of dollars to associate themselves with the event.
That makes sense, but opponents say the IOC is too heavy-handed with its enforcement. Athletes are banned from posting on Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites thanking their sponsors. Likewise, brands can’t encourage the athletes they sponsor with a “good luck!” or “congrats on gold!” tweets.
As you’d imagine, that gets non-sponsors like Brooks riled up.
Why this stunt
“The goal is to make the people watching [the Olympics] on TV understand that these athletes are not given the opportunity to use this to market themselves,” says Jesse Williams, senior sports marketing manager at Brooks.
“The people who make money from their performance sold their rights out from under them. I don’t think the general consumer would be happy to know that.”
The OOH stunt took place in Eugene, Oregon, coinciding with the U.S. track and field trials from July 1-10. The boards were up from June 29 to July 11
How it worked
Three billboards in total were dispatched. The stationary billboard measured 12-by-44 feet. The two mobile billboards were each 9-by-22 feet.
“The goal was to give the platform a microphone to the athletes,” Williams says. “That’s where change will come from–if athletes stand together. Hopefully it’s not mentioned only every four years.”
The company claims it intended to stay anonymous. But some sleuthing by The Wall Street Journal uncovered the real sponsor. While the main purpose was to draw attention to Rule 40, Brooks has also benefited from the buzz.
“We want to be a brand that’s about the athletes,” says Williams. “We want to empower them.”
Why it worked
It was also timely and executed where it would resonate–in front of Olympic sports fans and athletes.
How it was received
Rule40.com’s social media accounts received 529 million impressions in the final week of the July. It also boosted Facebook likes 223 percent that week.
As for the actual Rule40.com site, 85 percent of visitors in the week ended Aug. 1 were new visitors, and traffic jumped 348 percent during the track and field trials.
The stunt also received a positive response from athletes. Once Brooks was revealed as the organizer, the company received congratulatory notes from athletes it sponsors, as well as those supported by other brands.
It also received coverage in The Wall Street Journal and has built momentum on social media sites.
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