London 2012: Ambush Marketing and the Olympic Games
Some advertisers are up in arms after being shut out of sport's most prestigious event, the 2012 Olympic Games. In their minds this means war minus the shooting. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has frowned upon ambush marketing for decades, but this year, the battle to preserve Olympic sponsorship integrity is fiercer than ever.
The history of Olympic sponsorship
When the Olympic games began in ancient Greece, the athletes of the day did not have brand name sponsors to finance their pursuit of athletic perfection. As well, this pursuit of perfection didn't cost billions of dollars. The final bill for London 2012 has ballooned to an estimated £24 billion; for the 2008 Olympic Games, Beijing spent £25 billion; and in 2004, Athens spent £10 billion to host sport's most heralded event.
With these staggering costs the need for financial support is clear.
After the stigma of debt-ridden events such as the 1976 Montreal Games (the costs of the Montreal Olympic stadium weren't paid off until late 2006) the IOC needed to regroup and find a financially sound way to finance the Olympic Games. At the 1984 Los Angeles Games, the IOC harnessed the power of strategic sponsorship. Instead of permitting numerous sponsors to pledge a small amount of financial support, they adopted a model that would only allow a limited number of long-term sponsors to pay for the honour of being the event's exclusive sponsor in its industry sector.
Unlike other sporting events, at the Olympics, you won't find logos plastered in or around the stadium. Instead, the games operate under a "clean venue" policy, which aims to keep the focus on the purity of sport.
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So if sponsors wish to advertise their goods they will have to do so outside of the Olympic stadium, usually in the form of commercials, posters, food and drink packaging and other promotional platforms. Some might call it cunning and others might call it a mere stroke of genius persuading advertisers to pay to advertise on their behalf. However you view it, the IOC stance against the commercialization of sports is a winning formula. To date there are 11 global sponsors, known as top Olympic partners (TOPs) who have the right to use the Olympic brand. Between 2009 – 12 the TOPs spent $957 million in sponsorship, and the London Organizing Committee's cash register will continue to ring with the sale of tickets and licensing souvenirs.
The sponsors must believe that they benefit from the goodwill associated with sponsorship otherwise they wouldn't make the investment. It's almost impossible to walk down a street anywhere in the world and not be reminded of the Olympics. As a result, the IOC clearly understands the paramount importance of protecting the contributions of its investors who help make the games profitable.
The need to protect sponsors
Opponents of ambush marketing don't believe that it is clever; they call it theft. "You know what parasite means. It is when one organism lives off another with no benefit to the host," said Michael Payne, IOC Marketing Director. The idea is to capitalize on the goodwill and popularity of the event in hopes of increasing brand awareness and product sales. Moreover, ambush marketing diminishes the value and quality of official sponsorship and the future sponsorship is placed in jeopardy.
The Olympics has a long list of ambushers. In 1984, it was Kodak vs. Fujifilm, then in 1988 it was Fujifilm vs. Kodak but the most notorious ambusher of all is Nike. On June 24th, they didn't disappoint with the launch of their YouTube ad campaign "Find Your Greatness." The 60-second ad takes viewers on a journey around the world where they see unknown athletes in towns and villages called London. Cheeky.
How sponsors are protected
The IOC isn't kidding when they say that they won't tolerate ambush marketers. Long before the 2012 Olympics began the IOC launched public awareness campaigns to educate consumers about the negative impact of ambush marketing.
As a precursor to the 2010 Games, Canada introduced The Olympic and Paralympic Marks Act, which restricted the use of certain words, symbols and logos in advertising and promotion. Britain also implemented the London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Act prior to the 2012 Games. These and similar laws around the world give the Olympic bodies overarching powers to protect the value of the Olympic brand and the exclusivity of sponsorship. For instance, TOPs may only use trademarks like the five rings and words such as "Summer Olympics". Consequently, this broad scope of protection can have embarrassing and expensive ramifications for advertisers who don't follow the law.
The LOCOG and the British Parliament have drafted the toughest legislation in Olympic history. Together, they have criminalized guerrilla marketing efforts with fines of $30,000 or more.
Furthermore, the "clean venue" policy mentioned earlier also applies to athletes. Although it may be trickier to police, athletes are forbidden to wear branded clothing, or have logos tattooed, painted, shaved, or otherwise displayed on their bodies. If they do Olympic officials will be waiting in the wings to reprimand them.
When consumers take a moment to sit down and watch the games, the question of how much McDonalds or Samsung paid to be associated with the games will be irrelevant. The Olympics are meant to celebrate the human form and the human spirit. The Games, no matter how many billions of dollars or pounds it took to stage it, will provide us with a sense of national pride, peace and happiness.
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