Why ambush marketing could be an Olympic event at London 2012

The 2010 World Cup in South Africa was nothing if not memorable.

There was the Frank Lampard “goal” that never was (or should that be the other way around?), the emergence of the vuvuzela as a new form of torture and the introduction to the uninitiated of the concept of ambush marketing.

In this instance we saw a posse of Dutch blonde bombshells in orange mini-skirts ejected from the stadium during the Holland v Denmark game for unlawful advertising with two of the group arrested on charges of organising “unlawful commercial activities.”

The stunt was meticulously executed by Dutch brewery Bavaria. The mini-dresses, sold by the brewery as part of a gift pack, only had a tiny outer label carrying the brand’s name. But in the world of global sporting events that is the deemed the crime of the century.

The trick the company had played is that prior to the women’s appearance, the firm made sure they were instantly recognisable in the Netherlands by arranging to have one modelled by top Dutch WAG Sylvie van der Vaart, wife of Tottenham Hotspur’s Rafael van der Vaart.

While two of the miscreants found themselves behind bars for their efforts, there is no doubt that the stunt was a success – such a success in fact that spectators and event organisers can undoubtedly expect a summer of ambush marketing at the London Olympics and European Championships, according to a study from Coventry University’s Centre for the International Business of Sport (CIBS).

“Just as sponsorship has become big business, so too has ambushing,” said CIBS researcher Nick Burton.

“Corporations that have missed out on the big sponsorships are going to great lengths to undermine their rival’s sponsorship of sporting mega events.

“Countries staging major sporting events are taking ambush marketing seriously, using legislation where necessary. Failure to do so can seriously affect their chances of hosting similar events in the future because of their inability to attract sponsors, who will question whether event sponsorship is the most beneficial way of spending their marketing budgets.

“The London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (LOCOG) will be taking a zero tolerance approach to ambushing.

“It is essential that businesses are aware of what is deemed to be ambushing and what the ramifications will be of being identified as an ambusher.”

Although legislation is in place to protect against ambushing, significant extra costs are often incurred in protecting against it and spectators may be affected by policing of ambushers in venues or exclusion zones.

Professor Simon Chadwick of Coventry University’s Business School, added: “We are likely to see ambushers engaged in activities ranging from rival advertising through to the distribution of free gifts and the use of images deliberately designed to mislead consumers about who the official sponsors are.

“Event rights holders must now consider even greater exclusive marketing zones surrounding venues and a continued presence of ‘ambush police’ with the authority to protect their sponsors’ investment.”

More than £700 million in sponsorship and exclusivity deals have already been agreed with LOCOG, with Birmingham-based Cadbury having spent £50 million.

LOCOG has issued detailed guidance on examples of advertising which would infringe the rights. Advertising restrictions include use of the Games’ official mascots or logos and certain words.

Its business guide states: “If LOCOG fails to tackle ambush marketing and misses its revenue targets, the quality of the Games will suffer and the potential for leaving a financial legacy for sport in the UK will be lost.”

Sara McNeil, an intellectual property lawyer at Browne Jacobson, said: “A robust system of statutory marketing rights has been implemented to prevent parties from using any Olympic or 2012 Games trade marks or logos in a way that creates an association with the 2012 Olympic or Paralympic Games.

“And from using any representation including words, signs, marks or images in a way that creates an association between a person, business, goods, services and the 2012 Games.

“These are broad rights and represent a potential minefield for businesses.

“However, LOCOG has emphasised that the court will also look at the cumulative effects that words and imagery create and an advertisement or promotional piece which evokes the 2012 Games could still infringe even if it doesn’t make use of any of the listed expressions.

“Despite these robust restrictions, it seems that there is some scope to develop marketing campaigns which do not include ‘listed expressions’ or Olympic imagery but which rely on more subtle means to allude to the 2012 Games.”

Ms McNeil added: “LOCOG is taking a robust approach to enforcement and there are serious consequences for infringing these rights, including unlimited fines if convicted on indictment, as well as civil penalties such as injunctions, delivery up or disposal orders, damages and account of profits.”

Jane Ainsworth, managing director of Birmingham’s Willoughby PR, said that many companies which engaged in marketing stunts did not understand the potential for getting their fingers burned.

She said: “My principal concern with this ambush style marketing is that many companies simply won’t know they are doing it.

“Far too many businesses are naively planning offers, events and stunts ‘to get into the spirit of things’ without realising that there is a rule book the size of War and Peace in place that lays down what you can and can’t say and do.

“I am sure that clever companies will find loopholes and on a personal level, I hope they do.

“It seems a great pity that only large businesses with marketing budgets the size of Greece’s debt can profit, in a marketing sense, from the Olympics.

“If the Olympic committee come down too hard on these ‘guerrillas’ they risk a public backlash and if a sponsor throws their weight around it could be even worse – but if they turn a blind eye, it calls into question the real benefit of paying out millions for an official brand association.

“My advice to clients is to err on the side of caution. You can’t say Olympics so don’t and check the rules for the other terms that have been ‘taken’ – there are a lot more no go areas than many think.

“In my opinion, the Olympic committee will protect their sponsors at all costs – and for most businesses, this cost won’t be a price worth paying.”

Peter Sharkey: London 2012 and the quest to keep the IOC happy

Next page: A guide to ambush marketing and how not to upset the London 2012 organisers


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