Olympics 2012: Business opportunity or an opportunity to be sued?

Official sponsors pay millions of pounds for a right to associate themselves with the Games, and want to be sure that non-sponsors do not achieve the same association, without having to pay for it, through ambush marketing.

The draconian Olympics Act goes far beyond any pre-existing English law in an effort by the London 2012 organisers, LOCOG, to protect both the image of the Games and the sponsors’ rights and we spoke to Mishcon de Reya, one of the UKs leading law, to help ensure you don’t 
Whether or not a business intends to carry out ambush marketing, the legislation is so wide as to catch seemingly ‘innocent’ communications or actions. Breaches of the legislation can give rise to unlimited fines and criminal liability. It is therefore essential that companies understand the breadth of the Olympics Act from the top level of management through to the people putting ideas into effect.
Here is what you should consider:
  • Don’t use any Olympic trademarks, including the Olympic rings symbol, the Paralympic ‘agitos’, the mascots and the 2012 logo

  • Don’t use words or phrases such as Olympic, Olympian, Paralympic, London 2012, summer, bronze, silver, gold, sponsor, medals and games if the usage creates an ‘association’ with the Games

  • Don’t use pictures which may also create an ‘association’, for example, the Olympic Stadium, an Olympic-style torch or the colours of the Olympic rings in sequence

  • Don’t use Olympic tickets for any promotion of your business whatsoever, whether as a free gift, a competition prize, or to sell to your customers

  • Don’t sponsor athletes in the belief that they can advertise your business during the Games. They are not allowed to do so. You can sponsor athletes as usual before and after the Games, but be sure to appreciate the scope of the association they can sell to you. 

  • Do understand that LOCOG’s real target will be the big brands who are rivals to the official Olympic sponsors. Small businesses are affected by the legislation and must not breach the rules identified above, but LOCOG should not interfere with reasonable and respectful marketing activity

  • Do take legal advice prior to commencing any marketing campaign which alludes or relates to the Olympic Games. This will help you to appreciate whether the campaign is likely to be challenged by LOCOG;

  • Do be robust if you receive a letter from LOCOG challenging your marketing activity. Whilst LOCOG’s initial stance is likely to insist you cease all infringing activity, in most cases a compromise can be reached. Speak to your lawyer if you are unsure of the strength of your position

  • Do treat any threats from LOCOG seriously as there are a wide range of sanctions available to the authorities. These include unlimited fines, raids on your premises, injunctions to stop infringing activity and criminal convictions. 
The Olympics Act creates uncertainty for small and medium enterprises who understandably wish to make the most of business opportunities arising from the Games.
Mishcon de Reya is advising companies on how to approach their marketing activity over the next year, and we are also helping businesses who have already been challenged over their advertising by LOCOG.