London 2012 and the cost of Ambush Marketing 29th May, 2012

With just under two months before the long awaited London 2012 Olympic Games begin, the media spotlight is certainly on Britain. Companies across the country are expecting the Olympic Games to have a positive effect on business with the influx of tourists creating a rare opportunity for an expansive global audience. Some companies in the UK simply want their marketing messages to support the Olympic Games as a matter of British pride,  however other companies have less than honest intentions and want to trade off the ‘goodwill’ of the Olympic Games. This exists in the form of ambush marketing where one brand hopes to eclipse the marketing of an existing event sponsor through a publicity stunt to gain exposure, or where a brand attempts to simply ride on the coattails of the Olympic Games hoping the public will perceive an official association.

The truth is that there are some important commercial barriers in place restricting marketing and advertising around the Olympics. Whether your intentions as a business are honest or not, any advertisement from a ‘non-authorised user’ that would lead a member of the public to presume an association to the Olympic Games will result in infringement of the London Olympic Association Right (LOAR) 2006.

Listed Expressions

The London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (LOCOG) has highlighted the statutory rights for marketing around the Olympics. Companies using the listed expressions in the course of trade, categorised below, will need to do so with care to avoid: removal of their merchandise, unlimited fines, or even a criminal conviction for flagrant abuse of the law.


‘Two Thousand and Twelve’


‘twenty twelve’








The court will take into consideration the following:

Any two of the words in List A such as: “Backing the 2012 Games”


Any word in List A with one or more words in List B such as: “Supporting the London Games”

Ricoh Arena

This legislation has been received both positively and negatively by brands and the public. Some argue that the law is extremely restrictive and the rights assumed by LOCOG are out of their remit. An example where this legislation has been regarded as particularly impractical occurred at the Ricoh Arena, home to Coventry Football Club. This stadium which is hosting football matches during the Olympics  were informed that every non-official Olympic sponsor brand within the stadium, right down to the design of the hand-dryers must be covered up due to a conflict with existing sponsors. According to the facilities manager Antony Mundy, this has left them with a “mammoth task”.

Nike vs Reebok

What LOCOG are trying to protect is ambush marketing and publicity stunts that seem to be common place at competitions such as the Olympic Games. They are right to do so; brands such as Nike have been guilty of ambush marketing with their pop-up ‘Nike Town’ which appeared on the doorstep of the Olympic Park during the Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games.  In this instance the result was that 36% of the public believed that Nike, not Reebok were the official sponsors.

2010 FIFA World Cup

The Olympics and the FIFA World Cup have been the prime targets for ambush marketing over recent years. As each competition comes to a close the law has become progressively more robust to prevent those seeking to associate themselves as official sponsors or partners. Some may argue that current measures in the light of ambush marketing are now too protective of the existing sponsors and that marketing around the Olympic Games is trying to negotiate around a minefield. This degree of protection was comically mocked during the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa. South African budget airline Kulula decided on the marketing slogan ‘The Unofficial Carrier of the You-know What’ in the lead-up of the World Cup. Ironically this still became censored by the FIFA committee.

Does the legislation strike the right balance?

Coming from a professional sponsorship agency, we are well aware of the level of sponsorship that goes into the Olympic Games and the strategy behind the investment from brands. In tough economic times companies are investing large sums of money into the Olympic Games. Brand exposure and exclusivity in your industry is undoubtedly the primary reasons behind sponsorship. To a certain degree it could also be argued that in the spirit of competition, one-upmanship in being the headline sponsor between global brands such Nike and Adidas is just as fierce as the competing that will be seen in the Olympic Park this summer. What we need to remember however is that, money raised from sponsorship amounts to nearly half of the capital required to stage the Olympic Games in the first place. If these brands don’t feel that their investment has been appropriately protected, then the level of support into the Olympic Games is severely jeopardised for future competitions.

We all want the London Olympic Games to run at the best of its ability, for the sake of both the public and the athletes. Furthermore, despite arguments that too much power is afforded to LOCOG, and the level of protection given to official sponsors, London 2012 will undoubtedly undergo some degree of ambush marketing this summer. Whether you agree with the legislation surrounding the Olympic Games or not, it is important to not get caught out unawares of the restrictions in place.

So if in doubt check the legislation:

Ambush Marketing & the London Olympics 14th February, 2011

With the upcoming London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, brands have joined in the big race to bag top sponsorship slots. The London 2012 Games is expected to attract an unprecedented number of visitors and a worldwide viewership, hence the attraction for sponsors is evident.

However, there are brands that cannot afford an association with an event of this magnitude, as well as those that can, but choose not to. This brings us to the issue of guerrilla or ambush marketing.

A legal sponsorship involves purchasing rights to the use of a property for promotional purposes. Ambushing refers to using a property without a right in a way that deflects attention from the main sponsor, or creating an association with a person, an event or a team without the right to do so. Here, a brand takes advantage of a highly publicised event without paying any sponsorship fees. Regarded by many as immoral, this cost-effective and strategically valuable marketing technique continues to attract big brands and master-marketers.

Some interesting ambush marketing strategies by brands during past Olympic Games include:

  • Reebok was the Official Sponsor of the games in 1996, while Nike purchased billboard spaces in close proximity of the venue and handed out team flags with Nike’s logos on them to spectators, ensuring their visibility both on and off camera. Nike thus clearly stole the limelight and sabotaged Reebok’s sponsorship goals, without having to pay for the rights to do so.
  • In 2008, Li Ning, China’s sport-star was chosen to light the Olympic Torch, which he did so while wearing  shoes from a sportswear line that he had founded with the official sponsors Adidas standing on the sidelines. The publicity that followed this stint got Li-Ning’s brand more coverage than the lighting of the torch itself.
  • During the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000, Official Sponsor Ansett Air’s major competitor, Quantas Airlines increased advertising under their slogan ‘The Spirit of Australia’, which was very similar to the Olympic Game’s slogan “Share the spirit”.  
  • During the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway, American Express launched a campaign that stated, “If you’re travelling to Lillehammer, you’ll need a passport, but you don’t need a Visa”. This was due in response to Official Sponsor Visa’s claims that American Express was not accepted as credit card at the Olympic Village.  It will be interesting to see what else they come up with for the London Olympics.

The London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Act have introduced the London Olympics Association Right (LOAR) which provides LOCOG with the exclusive right to authorise persons to use and exploit any visual or verbal representation (of any kind) which is likely to create, in the public mind, an association between the London Olympics and goods or services, or a person who provides goods or services.

Furthermore the Act sets out a variety of words such as “games”, “2012”, “Two Thousand and Twelve” and “twenty twelve” which must not be used in combination with any of the following words, “gold”, “silver”, “bronze”, “London”, “medals”, “sponsor” or “summer” in an unauthorised manner which will be likely to suggest to members of the public that there is an association with the London Olympics.

Official Sponsors and commercial partners can therefore be granted exclusive rights by LOCOG under the Act to associate themselves with the games.

However, with increased restrictions comes increased use of creative marketing techniques in order to win market share through competitive brands.  It will be interesting to see both how LOCOG will manage this and even more interesting to see how competitive brands will try and overcome it.