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Non-Sponsors Take On The Olympics To Align Their Brands With Fair Play

By Lesa Ukman Aug 13, 2012

Non-Sponsors Take On The Olympics To Align Their Brands With Fair Play

The extreme approach taken by the London Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games (LOCOG) to enforcing IOC marketing rules has not only not protected official sponsors, I’d argue it has hurt them. Each time the brand police tape over the logo of a non-sponsor, or warn the public about wearing a Pepsi T-shirt to the Games, or insist policemen carry their snacks in unbranded plastic bags, they drag down the brands of the sponsors.

Cover of Britain's Private Eye magazine pokes fun at LOCOG's brand police

Cover of Britain’s Private Eye magazine pokes fun at LOCOG’s brand police

Some sponsors are culpable too. Visa and McDonald’s, for example, enforced sales exclusivity which was not in the interest of attendees. This creates sympathy for non-sponsoring brands and creates commercial fatigue among fans. 

Non-sponsors like Brewdog, Oddbins and Paddy Power have cleverly tapped into the underdog zeitgeist with campaigns that poke fun at the rules and the sponsors.

  • Brewdog launched a limited edition Olympic beer “laced with performance enhancing ingredients” and has held a host of Olympic-themed events, including a “crap beer amnesty with an Olympic twist,” where customers were invited to bring a bottle of official sponsor Heineken to swap for one-third off Brewdog’s latest product.
  • Oddbins, the wine retailer, showed its contempt for what it described as the “asinine rules” designed to protect the exclusivity of sponsors by promoting a 30 percent discount to customers who turned up with products from Pepsi, MasterCard, Nike and four other competitors of official sponsors. Oddbins’ Web traffic increased 22 percent during the Monday-to-Wednesday period following the campaign launch compared to the same period the prior week, according to Experian.


  • Paddy Power, the British bookmaker, promoted its sponsorship of “the largest athletics event in London this year”—an egg and spoon race in London, France. LOCOG at first instructed JCDecaux to take down the outdoor ads, then performed what Paddy Power said was a “gold-medal-winning U-turn” and allowed them to stay. 

This is new and it is serious. Ambush marketing, which has been around since the Games were held in Los Angeles in 1984, may divert attention from the official sponsors. But these campaigns are far more destructive. They are designed to build contempt for the Olympics and Olympic sponsors.

The IOC has been granted extraordinary competitive and commercial benefits. It can and does oblige governments around the world to pass legislation that gives unprecedented protection to itself and its sponsors. (For example, after winning its bid to host the Games, the British government passed the London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Act 2006 to protect sponsors from unauthorized advertising. The new law supplemented the U.K.’s existing intellectual property laws, as well as the Olympic Symbol Act of 1995.)

Yet, there have been more than a dozen legal “ambush” campaigns connected to the London Olympics, as I pointed out in another blog post.

Olympic themed art has cropped up all over London, including this jab at McDonald's for insisting it be the only food purveyor allowed to sell French fries at London Olympic venues

Olympic themed art has cropped up all over London, including this jab at McDonald's for insisting it be the only food purveyor allowed to sell French fries at London Olympic venues

The best protection the IOC and future organizing committees can bring to sponsors is to 1) deliver the support of athletes—Rule 40 needs rethinking (You can read more about Rule 40 here); 2) deliver the support of fans—unused tickets, 12-hour delays, McDonald’s or nothing fries, and Visa or nothing credit cards alienate viewers and attendees (You can read more about Visa here); 3) understand that sponsors win not with rules but by providing the stories, access and participation that people want and want to share (Read what London 2012’s successful marketers are doing here); 4) update the offer—TOP was created in a world where rights could be neatly carved up by territory. But in our digital world that is impossible; 5) align partners with values-is the Olympics a movement about health and wellness? If so, what brands will it/won’t it partner with? and 6) make sponsor rights and benefits commensurate with fees. While we loved the mini Minis, why do Omega and BMW (and apparel makers) get product placement but not Coke/Powerade?



backlash London 2012 olympics ambush marketing


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Lesa Ukman

About the Author

Lesa Ukman is the futures director of IEG and ESP Properties. With the launch of IEG Sponsorship Report in 1982, she founded a company that defined an industry now worth more than $55 billion. She continues to define new and better ways for companies to get closer to their customers through sponsorship. Follow Lesa on Twitter!



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