NEW YORK: Both official sponsors of the Olympic Games and non-sponsors are stepping up their preparations for next month's event in Rio de Janeiro, with differing opinions emerging as to the effect of the relaxation of rules surrounding marketing.

Under Rule 40, athletes were previously not permitted to promote the brands sponsoring them unless they were also official sponsors, but this has been relaxed by the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

Larger brands have the resources to cope with the IOC's guidelines, and Peter Murray, VP/ global sports marketing at Under Armour, described the process as "very streamlined".

"The changes to Rule 40 allow us to fulfill our No. 1 objective, which is to support the Olympic athletes and hopefuls tied to the Under Armour brand during the games," he said.

Smaller brands have found it difficult to take advantage of the new dispensation, however, as Sally Bergesen, founder and CEO of Oiselle, an athletic apparel company that sponsors 15 Olympic hopefuls, told Adweek.

"The relaxed Rule 40 is a joke," she declared. "You had to have submitted your campaign in January, before anybody's qualified for anything. Then, you need to start running your campaign in March, so you don't get any timing benefit with the Olympics.

"For small businesses, running an ad campaign from March through August is really expensive," she said.

Accordingly, she is exploring ways to work around the restrictions, such as creating alternative terms for the Games for use on social which do not infringe on the event's intellectual property.

"We'll get creative and find a way to recognise our athletes," Bergesen vowed.

Social media is the likely focus of brands large and small, sponsor and non-sponsor in the search for what Chris Dobson, CEO at The Exchange Lab, described as "real-time, ownable moments".

Writing in Ad Exchanger, he added that he expected some innovative brands would "leverage virtual reality to provide a comprehensive and 360-degree immersive consumer experience".

Longer term, the easing of Rule 40 is likely to lessen the value of official sponsorships, according to some observers.

"My gut tells me that, post-Rio, the value of official Olympic partnership is going to go down, because that exclusivity goes away," said Zaileen Janmohamed, SVP/client services at GMR Marketing.

Data sourced from Adweek, Ad Exchanger; additional content by Warc staff