By Rebeca Gonzalez, MEC
Since the announcement in 2005 that London was going to be the Olympic hosts for the 2012 games, brands and business were biting at the bit to know how they were going to capitalise from it. With the lead-up to the games and after the official national sponsors were announced in 2007, many legal restrictions have been developed in order to stop unofficial brands from associating themselves with the games through their marketing communications. A local Stratford cafe pre-empted the arrival of the games by naming his cafe 'Cafe Olympic' post the 2005 announcement. Subsequently he was asked to change the name of his cafe due to legal restrictions around the word 'Olympic'. Needlessly to say, he has probably done better off the back of the publicity which surrounded this story.
Ambush marketing is a hot topic for LOCOG at the moment and is defined as; a marketing strategy where advertisers associate themselves with a particular event without paying a sponsorship fee. Although, the term conjures up images of camouflage men running around in combat doing surprise attacks with branded paraphernalia. It comes about as the Olympic committee try desperately to protect and please their official sponsors of the games. As a result, there have been many articles around the legal restrictions of businesses using Olympic signs, logos and the like, which is clearly outlined in the 'Olympic rules'; of which, rule 40, uses the term 'ambush marketing' 7 times!
Rule 40 is essentially the LOCOG 'black-out' period, where non-official sponsors of the games are not allowed to use any Olympic athletes in any of their marketing communications. Any brand found in breach of this may be subject to a fine, as well as the athlete being banned from the Olympics or disqualified from their Olympic accreditation. The restrictions on the black-out are so tight that official sponsors have to request permission to use any of the athletes within their marketing communications during this period. LOCOG have provided this very 'useful' illustration as to what marketing communication is acceptable;
The well illustrated 'black-out' Dos and Donts
Somehow, though, it can become a bit 'obsessive' when it comes to determining what is classified as 'ambush marketing'. Currently, no branded products are allowed to be brought into the Olympic village, but how far does this go? Your clothes? Your bag? Apparently yes. Lord Coe, chairman of LOCOG said in an interview that if you are seen wearing a Pepsi t-shirt, you may not be allowed to enter into the Olympic village but you may be able to get away with wearing Nike trainers. He further went on to say that there are restrictions on "any objects or clothing bearing political statements or overt commercial identification intended for 'ambush marketing'". This contradicted the initial statement of LOCOG who said that people visiting the venue can wear what they want.
These rules and restrictions have been about since ambush marketing took centre stage in the 1996 Olympics, when Nike had given out branded Union Jack flags to fans visiting the stadium in an attempt to ambush the official sponsor 'Reebok'. However, Nike's clever marketing campaign during the run-up to the 2012 Olympics but before the LOCOG 'black-out', meant that they came out as the top brand people associated with the Olympics despite them not being an official sponsor.
This shows that the power of the Olympic logo and slogans are not that powerful after all! Therefore, as true in all sponsorship, a 'badging' exercise does not achieve cut-through - it is how you engage with your consumers on their emotional level which will get you the association.
The premise of the restrictions put in place to prevent ambush marketing are completely justified considering the games would not go ahead without the support and financial backing of the official sponsors. However, due to the pressures put on by official brands, LOCOG have become a tad overzealous and paranoid as some of their public comments and statements around the matter seem rather ridiculous. The restrictions are becoming so tight that it is affecting local businesses who are not trying to make money off the Olympics, rather just trying to get into the spirit of the games. Essentially, LOCOG should be renamed The Fun Police.