Marketing myths of the London Olympics bill

Out-Law News | 05 Sep 2005 | 4:17 pm | 2 min. read

The Department of Culture, Media and Sport has published a fact sheet countering some of the myths that have emerged over the UK Government’s plans to protect against ambush marketing in connection with the 2012 Olympics.

The Government published its London Olympics bill in July, seeking to prevent any business making reference to the 2012 Olympics in its promotions, unless it is an official sponsor. This is apparently required by the International Olympic Committee, an attempt to control ambush marketing.

Ambush marketing generally occurs when one brand pays to sponsor an event and a rival brand attempts to associate itself with the event without being an official sponsor. For example, at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, Reebok was among companies that paid $700 million to be "official sponsors"; but when the US basketball team won gold, Nike sponsored the press conference and when Michael Jordan accepted his gold, he covered up the Reebok logo on his kit.

To protect official sponsors, the 2000 Sydney Olympics saw the first example of legislation restricting the use of certain words in Olympics advertising.

Following suit, the UK bill restricts the use of the words “games”, “Two Thousand and Twelve”, “2012”, and “twenty twelve” in combination with each other or in combination with words including “gold,” “silver”, “bronze”, “London” and “summer”. And this, marketing firms have complained, goes too far.

According to the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA):

“As it stands at the moment the proposed Bill seeks to greatly extend UK law over and above the protection provided for general copyright, passing off, trade marks and the Olympic Symbols Protection Act. The IPA is firmly of the belief that official sponsors do not require any additional protection and that IOC requirements are more than adequately complied with within existing UK law.”

Media reports picked up the story, hyping the issues to warn that small businesses could be fined up to £20,000 for adverts such as “Come to London in 2012”.

But this is nonsense, according to the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). It explains:

“the Bill does not prevent the mere use of words like ‘games’ and ‘gold’.

Instead it creates the London Olympics association right, which means the London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (LOCOG) can authorise certain persons – most likely official sponsors and commercial partners – to associate themselves with the Games.”

Simply using words like “games” and “gold” will not attract fines. The DCMS is concerned rather with the use of the listed words in certain combinations in order to create an unauthorised association with the Games.

Factual references to London and the Olympics will be legal and phrases such as “Come to London in 2012” are not subject to a blanket ban, according to the DCMS.

It explains: "While such expressions may be used to create an association with the Olympics, there will be many cases in which there is clearly no link to the Games. It will have to be decided on a case by case basis whether infringement has occurred, but the intention of the bill is to adopt a common sense approach."

Any infringement action taken by the LOCOG would be brought before a court. It would be the court, not the LOCOG, that would determine what level of fine was appropriate in each case.