Olympic sponsors’ rights and ambush marketers’ attempts to hijack the London Games

Wednesday 8th August 2012

The intensity surrounding brand protection and ambush marketing has almost reached fever pitch at London 2012.

With the authorities on high alert, brand owners, desperate to benefit from any Olympic publicity, are busily devising marketing and advertising campaigns to cash in on the association that official sponsors have paid millions for.

With an estimated worldwide viewing audience of 4.8 billion people over the course of the Games, it is no wonder that brand owners are jostling to get their piece of the action.

But with sponsors paying millions of dollars to be an official London 2012 sponsor, the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) are taking a very strong handed approach to ensure that these sponsors get a good return on their investment.

Official sponsors pay top dollar to fund the Games, and in return expect exceptional exposure through their association, to build their brand profile, connect with the public and lift sales.

Marketers’ attempts to ambush events and create an association with the Olympics, damages the investment of genuine Olympic sponsors, and risks the Olympic Organising Committee’s ability to fund a successful Olympic Games.

With the ever increasing cost of sponsorships, sponsors are demanding a greater return on their investment. When marketers engage in ambush marketing the exclusivity to a sponsor is lost, along with the value of sponsorship for the future.

Corporate sponsorship is fundamental to the operational cost of events like the Olympics, and any loss in the sponsorship value will impact on the financial ability of the organisers, and consequently the event as a whole will suffer.

LOCOG has been delegated the responsibility of legal guardian of the Olympic brand and is granted extensive powers under the London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Act 2006, and the Olympic Symbol (Protection) Act 1995. The former has been labelled as the most comprehensive piece of legislation on marketing and advertising yet.

Under these Acts, businesses that do not adhere to the rules and are involved in ambush marketing can find themselves subject to criminal proceedings. The regulations, which provide for a clean zone of 200m around the designated stadiums, and include the water and sky, are intended to help keep these guerrilla marketers at bay.

Although officials have been given unprecedented power to remove temporary advertising structures, prevent mass giveaways outside venues, and remove counterfeit goods from sale, the temptation to free ride for some businesses has already proven too much with a number of cases before the authorities.

One notable instance includes the highly publicised “Paddy Power” billboard campaign which states: “Official sponsor of the largest athletics event in London this year! There you go, we said it.” In an explanatory note underneath, the billboard states that the sponsorship is of an egg and spoon race in the town of London in France. This cheeky advertising stunt has been allowed to continue after lawyers got involved, although LOCOG raised serious concerns about the campaign.

With the London Olympics being hailed as the first truly digital event, the internet is also being heavily policed. Any material deemed to be infringing sponsors’ exclusive rights will be taken down. In addition to monitoring of social media websites such as YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, there is also extensive monitoring of live broadcasts for ambush marketing advertisements and unauthorised commercial overlays.


Ambush marketing blurs the consumers’ view as to which companies have official Olympic links, by both directly and indirectly creating associations with the Olympic Games, with the intention of gaining the benefits of an Olympic partner.

Sponsors should be able to benefit from good publicity from an event, and protect the substantial investment that is made to ensure that viewers get an Olympics of the highest quality.

As entertaining as some of these ambush tactics may be, ambush (or guerrilla) marketing attempts erode the rights of the official sponsors and have a negative impact on sponsorship as a whole, consequently affecting the quality of Olympic Games in the future.

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