The Olympics have dominated UK headlines for some time, but this morning Brits woke up to headlines specifically about Olympic branding and sponsorship.
With less than a week to go until the opening ceremony, FT.com [requires registration] claims non-sponsoring brands have snapped up advertising spots near to Olympic venues that in some cases appears to give them more visual presence than official sponsors. This follows rather sluggish outdoor and tube poster take-up by official Olympic sponsors – with some estimates suggesting they only bought around half of the available advertising spaces in prime sites.
In a separate development, 286 purple clad ‘brand police’ are monitoring and clamping down on unofficial commercial association with the Games, including ambush marketing.
Down the pub and in the papers, there are claims that the words ‘London’, ‘gold’ and ‘summer’ are out of bounds to all but official sponsors and that infringements will incur fines of up to £20,000 (US$31,000). In practice, this only applies when used in conjunction with other terms to imply an association with the Olympics. As the official London 2012 brand guidelines state, “We want everyone to get excited about and engage with the Games, and it is possible for business people… to do this – the key thing is to ensure it is done in a way that does not promote their business in association with the Games.”
Businesses are finding clever ways around the rules. MasterCard, rival to Olympic sponsor Visa, is running an extension of its long-running ‘Priceless’ campaign that references heroes, unique experiences and London without mentioning sport or 2012.
In recent months, there have been tales of businesses whose names or products include protected marks such as ‘Olympic’ being made to change their name. However, special exceptions apply for those trading under the same name since 1995. And some exceptions have been negotiated – for example, the Little Chef diner chain has been allowed to market its famous Olympic breakfast.
Most British people have heard stories about picnics and other community events being renamed or cancelled because of Olympic brand infringement issues, though given recent weather, far more have been cancelled because of persistent rain.
Olympic organisers counter these claims by saying they created the ‘Inspire’ mark for community groups interested in demonstrating support for the games, and the ‘Get Set’ scheme for schools – some 2,027 Inspire marks have been awarded and 25,000 schools and colleges have been involved in the Get Set education programme. However, schools and grassroots groups needed to get prior approval to use these marks from the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG).
Lorna Fray is a writer and editor at Interbrand London.