Pairs of Beats by Dre headphones have showed up on many of the coolest ears on the planet, because it’s good for the brand to put them there. Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber have even had their own branded earbuds. (You might not think Bieber is cool, but his name does sell stuff to tween girls.) Getting the cans on to the heads of pro athletes is also key, which is why a wonderfully sneaky guerilla campaign began with the company slipping headphones to some highly visible Olympic athletes off-campus…despite Panasonic spending nine figures to be an official electronics sponsor of the Games. The International Olympic Committee is not thrilled with the good doctor.
Noise-canceling headphones are useful for blocking out sound around you at, say, a high-pressure athletic event with a global audience. The question is whether wearing the noticeably branded Beats headphones violates IOC Rule 40, which prohibits athletes from mentioning their own sponsors during the Olympics, whether in interviews or on Twitter. Does wearing a free pair of expensive headphones emblazoned with Union Jacks count as promoting a sponsor, or does it just look cool and show national pride?
The IOC, for its part, says that it’s up to each country’s Olympic committee to serve as its own sponsorship police.
“We have to take a commonsense approach,” a spokesman told Reuters. “There is a difference between someone using equipment with a logo and someone promoting the brand.”
United Kingdom athletes were ordered to stop wearing Beats headphones during the Games… in public, at least. Take heed, Panasonic: paying $100 million doesn’t mean much if your products don’t look cool.