London Olympics warns that ambush marketers will be caught with their pants down….again

Who could forget the 2006 FIFA World Cup match when fans of the Netherlands were forced to remove their lederhosen, covered with Bavaria Brewery’s branding, because Budweiser was the official beer sponsor of the event? In a recent letter to ad and media agencies, the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) has warned that it will be equally unrelenting in an effort to protect the rights of its official sponsors.

There is a lot at stake. So far, LOCOG has raised US$1.1 billion in sponsorship of the Olympic Games. Sponsors have been given the exclusive rights to market their brands at the Games and to market themselves as official sponsors of the Games.

LOCOG is anticipating attacks from every angle. We recently posted about LOCOG’s controlling approach to the use of social media at the Games. Its current target is ambush marketing, which consists of activities by non-sponsors designed to advertise their brand at the Olympics or suggest a link between their brand and the Olympics. Some well-known instances of ambush marketing include:

  • Sprinter Linford Christie wearing contact lenses embossed with the Puma logo at a media conference before the 100m final at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, despite Reebok being the official sponsor of the event.
  • Selleys running ads during the 2005-2006 cricket season (which Selleys did not sponsor) involving a cricket named ‘Dave’ and ending with the line: “Selleys – proud sponsors of the cricket”.
  • A Holden blimp flying over the AFL Grand Final sponsored by Toyota.

Traditionally, sporting event organisers may have been able

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to rely on conventional media to turn cameras away from ambush marketers or avoid coverage of ambush marketing stunts. However, in what has been heralded as the first “social media” Olympic Games, LOCOG is seeking to bolster its arsenal. In a letter to media and ad agencies, LOCOG has warned brands against engaging in “generic campaigns” that suggest a connection to the Olympics. LOCOG promises to address infringements “appropriately and quickly”, particularly when the infringements are conducted by competitors of official Olympic sponsors. The British Government has recently implemented regulations prohibiting unauthorised advertising or street trading throughout the Olympics at Olympic venues in an apparent attempt to strengthen the legal position of official sponsors.

No doubt LOCOG hopes that its aggressive prevention strategy will ward off any potential contraventions. The prospect of Facebook and Twitter photos of pants-less soccer fans makes us hope so too!