Domino’s Ignores Olympics Sponsorship Rules on Facebook and Twitter

Domino’s Pizza has directly referenced the Olympics in three posts and tweets on Facebook and Twitter since the Winter Games began two weeks ago. Because the company isn’t an official sponsor, it’s defying the U.S. Olympics Committee’s restrictions on non-sponsor brands mentioning the games in promotional settings.

Domino’s appears to be employing the so-called, events-based tactic known as “ambush marketing.” The USOC has long held exclusive legal rights to terms like “Olympics,” variations such as “Olympiad,” as well the iconic symbol of the five interlocking rings.

On Feb. 12, Domino’s used its Facebook “fan” page and Twitter account to offer a pizza special while simultaneously mentioning the Olympics. The Facebook post, in particular, included the image of the interlocked rings alongside a link to Vancouver2010.com, the official site of The Vancouver Organizing Committee.

Here’s the Facebook copy:

Don’t miss the Opening Ceremonies of the 2010 Winter Olympics tonight. Who’s going to light the Olympic Flame? Let Domino’s deliver our #newpizza while you watch. Get two medium, two topping pizzas for just $5.99 each at participating stores. Order now at http://bit.ly/newpizza.

Twitter’s characters limit appears to have kept Domino’s social media team from being as garish while tweeting the same offer that day:

Order our #newpizza 2nite & watch the Opening Ceremonies. 2 med. 2 topping pizzas for $5.99/ea. Order at http://bit.ly/newpizza.

The Ann Arbor, MI-based quick-service chain also referenced the Olympics with Facebook posts on Feb. 22 and 25, while tweeting about the winter sporting event on Feb. 23 and 24. Phone calls and e-mails to both Domino’s and the USOC went unanswered on Thursday.

Rob Prazmark, an Olympics marketing veteran who has consulted the USOC, said Domino’s social media plays were “huge” violations of the committee’s rules. He suggested the pizza brand was running roughshod over competitor McDonald’s exclusive sponsorship for the quick-service niche that reportedly costs $25 million per year.

“It’s blatant ambush marketing,” Prazmark said. “They confuse the marketplace and make it harder for true sponsors to get the full benefits out of the marketing rights they have paid for in concerns to Olympics. [Domino’s] ought to go off and do something else rather than try to screw with what McDonald’s has paid for and has worked to build up equity-wise through the years.”

To be fair, Domino’s is probably only one of a number of firms that have skirted the committee’s rules during the last two weeks. And the USOC has done little else in recent years than scold big brands trying to capitalize on the Olympics’ popularity by name.

For instance, last month the Colorado Springs, CO-based committee anonymously called out brands – purportedly Subway and Verizon – for ambush tactics in TV spots. Still, Domino’s appears to be ignoring the rules in perhaps a more direct manner, employing call-to-action copy online while mentioning the Olympics by name.

Interestingly, Pazmark said the USOC and the International Olympic Committee have been increasingly working with analytics companies like Google so they can track online rule-breakers. “That’s new because social networking has come so far even since the [2008 Summer] Olympics in Beijing,” he said. “By the time we get to London in 2012 and get these things straightened out, social media will be [more closely monitored].”

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