Olympic Ambush Marketing Penalties - A warning

The London 2012 Olympics are now just months away, with many official sponsors gearing up their brand campaigns, having spent millions for the privilage of being involved. Some brands will surlely be looking to crash the party however. Melanie McGuirk, head of IP at law firm Pannone discusses the possible implications of such activity.

OLYMPIC fever is gripping the nation with many marketing and brand managers seeing a real opportunity to take advantage of the biggest sporting event to hit the nation for decades.

But be warned – flout the strict rules governing Olympic merchandise and promotional material and you could face an unlimited fine and criminal conviction.

When a city is awarded the right to host the Olympic Games, legislation is passed to prevent ‘ambush marketing’ where businesses attempt to attach themselves to a major event without paying sponsorship fees.

And even for the most subtle of infringements, the courts will clamp down hard. Civil penalties include seizure and disposal of goods, and damages or payment of any profits made on the offending products or promotional material.

A criminal offence may also be committed in relation to the sale of infringing goods. Unless companies are official sponsors, it is a criminal offence to use Olympic themed imagery or language, however subtle, on goods or packing. It is also an offence to sell, hire and distribute such goods.

Penalties in the Magistrates courts include fines of up to £20,000, while the Crown Court has the power to impose unlimited fines.

And the authorities are not afraid to crack down hard. At the FIFA World Cup, where Anheuser–Busch InBev’s Budweiser was the official beer, two Dutch women were arrested for ambush marketing and 36 women ejected from the stadium when they were spotted wearing short orange dresses made by Dutch brewery Bavaria.

While that kind of publicity stunt was somewhat blatant, the most subtle of references or even a play on certain words can be treated as infringement.

During the 2000 Sydney Olympics, Qantas Airlines used the image of athlete Cathy Freeman with the slogan "The Spirit of Australia" which was strikingly similar to the Games’ slogan "Share the Spirit." Ansett Air, the official sponsor of the Games, brought proceedings which were later settled.

The London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) rely heavily on funding from corporate sponsorship deals, official merchandise and tickets to generate the hundreds of millions of pounds required from the private sector to organise and host the Games.

In return, official sponsors of the Games are given the exclusive right to associate their brands with the Olympics.

The use of words, mottos, mascots or symbols associated with the Olympics and Paralympics is unlawful. Also any depiction of the Olympic rings, Paralympic agitos (the Paralympic symbol in red, blue and green) or the Olympic podium, or the words “Olympic”, “Paralympic”, “Spirit in Motion”, “Team GB”, or “Inspired by London 2012” will, amongst other protected marks, result in infringement.

Furthermore, use of words such as “London”, “medals”, “sponsors”, “summer”, “gold”, and “2012” on merchandise or in marketing campaigns may also amount to an unlawful association with the London Games.

LOCOG has indicated that any representation of the Olympic style torch and flame; the Olympic venues; the five Olympic colours and any use of words or iconic images which evoke the spirit of the London 2012 Games may amount to an unlawful association with the London Games.

Basically the message is - leave merchandise and promotional activity to the official sponsors. The law in this area has become increasingly robust and there are serious penalties for those who fall foul.

MM

Melanie McGuirk

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