There is no doubt that the Olympics are a brilliant example of
global co-operation, athletic prowess and human endurance. They
also happen to be good for business too, as the recent case of
Australian Olympic Committee, Inc. v Telstra Corporation
Limited  FCA 857 demonstrates.
The Rio Olympics are the most widely broadcast Games in history,
with more and more viewers accessing content through PCs, tablets
and mobile devices as opposed to more traditional mediums. Given
the popularity of the Olympics, there was no doubt hot competition
for carriers to be the official sponsors of the Games and their
Despite its long history of sponsorship, Telstra is not an
official sponsor of the Australian Olympic Committee for the Rio
Olympics. It does, however, have an agreement with the Australian
broadcaster to sponsor its coverage of the Rio Olympics and show
Telstra advertisements across the different broadcast mediums.
Telstra took that opportunity to run advertisements with a
distinctive sporting flavour, which you no doubt have seen. The
advertisements show people watching a variety of different sporting
events on their tablets and mobiles and then emulating what they
saw, set to the song 'I go to Rio'. For part of the
advertisements, the words 'Telstra is not an official sponsor
of the Olympic Games, any Olympic Committees or teams'.
The Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) (and
presumably the official sponsor of the Olympics, a Telstra
competitor) was not happy with the advertisements. It argued that
because the advertisements clearly had an Olympic 'theme',
they conveyed a false representation that Telstra was an official
sponsor of the AOC and the Rio Olympics. On this basis, according
to the AOC, the advertisements constituted misleading and deceptive
conduct under the Australian Consumer Law. The question
the Court had to determine was whether the advertisements suggested
to a reasonable person that Telstra is a sponsor of the AOC or the
The Court noted that Telstra had to 'walk a fine line'
in the advertisements. It could promote its sponsorship of the
television coverage, but could not represent that it was a sponsor
of the AOC or the Olympics themselves. Ultimately, the Court felt
that Telstra came very close to the line but did not cross it.
The Court considered that a reasonable person in this case is
one who is likely paying only casual attention to the
advertisements. The Court agreed that the advertisements had an
'Olympic theme' and were designed to capitalise on the Rio
Olympics. However, because Telstra did not show Olympic athletes,
events or symbols, but rather showed people watching sporting
events, the advertisements represented a connection to the
television coverage, as opposed to the Olympics themselves.
Significance was also placed on the disclaimer appearing on the
advertisements. It was held that if a viewer did believe that the
advertisements represented Telstra as an Olympic sponsor, the
disclaimer would correct that misunderstanding.
The key takeaway from this decision is that in some
circumstances, it is possible for businesses to capitalise on an
event or issue without being an official sponsor of it. However,
extreme care must be taken to ensure that whatever promotion is
done does not cross the 'fine line' between acceptable and
misleading or deceptive.
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This case shows how the Court applies the reasonable person test to determine if conduct is likely to mislead or deceive.
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