London Olympics: Ambush Marketers Be Warned!

This post is part of our special coverage London 2012 Olympics.

Image courtesy of

Image courtesy of

The London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (LOCOG) has taken stringent measures to try to ensure no ‘ambush marketing’ tactics are used during the London 2012 Olympics. A common feature at modern major sporting events, ambush marketers try to sneak in promotions of their brands and companies in front of the crowd and, most importantly, the TV cameras. Sports law bloggers and marketers posted their opinions on ambush marketing and the London Olympics which are discussed below.

Duane Morris of Sports Law Blog says:

For event planners and corporate entities investing as sponsors of sporting events, protection of this contracted association is one of the top intellectual property issues. The United Kingdom is taking legislative steps to bar ambush marketing.  The key focus for all in this space is being clear on the rights contracted including the obligations to proactively work against ambushers. In ambush marketing there are multiple ‘victims’. First the party that paid for the official relationship with the sporting event…

He goes on to say:

London 2012 is the latest to have to deal with this challenging issue. We cannot predict what ambush type activities will take place, but it is a safe bet that there will be activity in this unsanctioned Olympic sport. British legislative activity is seeking to regulate many of the past bad acts. The legislation might even be interpreted to bar clothing at venues that are seeking to deliver an advertising message.

A post on the Olymponomics blog says:

Organizers go to great lengths to prevent businesses who are not official sponsors from associating themselves with the event. The first example of protective legislation in the Olympic context was passed for Sydney 2000 (drawing upon legislation from the Australian Bicentennial celebrations in 1988 that had provided safeguards in relation to the commercial use of symbols, words and phrases).

The post continues:

This highlight first of all that eye-catching ambush marketing ‘stunts’ are not necessary for firms to benefit from the illusion of perceived association with major events. It is also suggestive of a cognitive tendency of (some) individuals to view events such as the Olympics as necessarily related to global brands and commercialization, inhibiting the effectiveness of specific marketing and advertising campaigns – as the public struggle to distinguish between (different) messages in the face of an abundant supply of advertising and marketing promotions.

David Atkinson, in a post on Space blog adds:

For Olympic sponsors, we’re approaching the moment where their investments are coming under the greatest scrutiny, and where observers are looking to question their legacy, and whether they will be able to look back on London 2012 with pride.[..]

Despite all the means at the disposal of sponsors, including threats of litigation, this could become a battle that just can’t be won. Personally I’d like to see brands stepping away from the barrier of protection and earning recognition on their own merits. After all success at the Games won’t be measured simply in terms of eyeballs, logo views or even Facebook ‘Likes’, but through Brand Love from sporting and Olympic fans that endorses their overall contribution to the event.

In a guest post for The Sports Bloc Stephen Lownsbrough says:

Welcome to the world of ambush marketing, otherwise known as guerilla marketing, a highly controversial but undeniably smart tactic that has been utilized by small traders and corporate giants alike in order to accrue big rewards at minimal cost from major sporting events [..]

The London 2012 Games are expected to draw millions of visitors and a global television audience in the billions. As such the rewards of official sponsorship could be immense, and companies have paid up to £ 80m to become official sponsors or partners of the Games. Equally, the forthcoming Games, like any other sporting event of this magnitude should – as least in theory – provide ample opportunity for guerilla marketing to boost the financial fortunes of savvy businesses taking advantage of the related publicity.

He concludes:

So in years to come who will remember that Adidas were the official sportswear partners, indeed, does anyone remember who they were in Beijing, Sydney or even Barcelona?[..] but for those fortunate to win a medal at London 2012 and the millions around the world watching or attending the Games will have the lasting image of the medals, what they ironically represented, remembering the goddess of strength, speed and victory – Nike who can sit back with a wry smile and say, ‘Image is Everything’!

SportsAgentBlog raises the concerns of the US Olympic team in the post as follows:

The Opening Ceremony for the 2012 Summer Olympics will take place this Friday, July 27, 2012 in London. While athletes are making their final mental and physical preparations in their eventual quest for gold, they and their representatives are also considering how they can capture marketing and brand growth opportunities throughout the Games. Unfortunately for those athletes and their reps, the US Olympic Committee (USOC) and in the International Olympic Committee (IOC) will prohibit Olympians from marketing themselves during the course of the London events. Unless, of course the athletes are marketing official Olympic sponsors.

The post continues:

The IOC prohibition is referred to as Rule 40, and as imagined, is less than popular among almost everyone other than official Olympic sponsors. The intention of the Rule is to attempt to alleviate sponsor concerns of ambush marketing, destroying the full value that official sponsors hope to gain from paying the large price for that status. Those sponsors, including Coca-Cola, Visa and McDonald’s pay millions of dollars to become a part of The Olympic Partner (TOP) Programme.

Anke’s Back-up Blog also satirises the 2012 Olympics mascots in an image on its website, saying depicting them is probably illegal.

In conclusion, it seems that though the IOC and LOCOG will be seeking to secure the interests of the official sponsors, there are concerns from participating athletes and national teams who are likely to miss out on the potential sponsorships. It also remains to be seen if there will be effective policing of ambush marketers who might plague the Games and related events.

This post is part of our special coverage London 2012 Olympics.

This post was sub-edited by Jane Ellis.


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