UK: Catching The Eye - Your London 2012 Advertising Dilemma

Last Updated: 31 October 2011
Article by Vanessa Barnett

Welcome to 'Catching the Eye', our publication focussing on advertising, marketing and sponsorship.

Last week saw the publication of the revised advertising and street trading regulations for the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics. These will be brought into law soon so now is the time to consider their impact on your organisation to ensure you commit your marketing resource and agency spend in the right direction. Otherwise, you may end up in some quite hot water with games organisers and their highly empowered enforcement team.

A bit of background

The Olympics are big business and huge sums are invested by sponsors to fund them. Over the years an increasing number of third parties have used 'ambush marketing' techniques at the Olympics to gain valuable brand exposure, potentially to a global audience, for little or no cost when compared to becoming an official sponsor or supplier.

Ambush marketing is any form of marketing which is not by an official sponsor or supplier but is done to seek to benefit from the aura of goodwill around an event. Ambush marketing techniques range from handing out freebies to spectators outside a stadium to more stealth-like activities which actually disrupt an event for maximum exposure. Some examples:

  • Linford Christie's Puma-branded contact lenses at the Atlanta Olympics
  • Orange lederhosen given away by Dutch brewer Bavaria and then worn by swarms of Dutch fans to games at the World Cup
  • Vodafone's logo painted on the naked torso of a man running onto the field at the Bledisloe Cup

Because a sponsor's return on investment in terms of brand exposure is so heavily impacted by ambush marketing, host nations are required by Olympic organisers to commit to such practices being stamped out. These regulations implement that commitment and, in comparison to previous games, are the most difficult to get around.

What's covered in the regulations?

If you are involved in any way in advertising, marketing or sponsorship next year the advertising elements of the regulations will affect you. If you are involved in other activities often connected to marketing or sponsorship, such as pop-ups, the street trading elements of the regulations will affect you. If you facilitate activities by providing services, facilities, buildings or land, the regulations will reach out to affect you.

The regulations cover specific mapped out event zones for specific periods during events, rather than a blanket ban. They cover the games venues and routes and their immediate vicinity, so anyone advertising or trading at or near games venues or routes will need permission for their activities. Permission is obtained by being within the list of accepted activities set out in the regulations or by asking LOCOG, the body responsible for organising the games, for individual permission.

What advertising is banned?

A person may not engage in advertising activity in any event zone during the specified periods. An advertising activity is:

  • displaying an advertisement or
  • distributing or providing promotional material.

Displaying is widely crafted to encompass practically everything you could think of doing with an advertisement: projecting, emitting, screening, exhibiting, carrying, wearing, holding, etc and even covers more niche display forms using the human body or animals.

An advertisement is equally widely crafted: any word, letter, image, mark, sound, light, model, sign, placard, board, notice, screen, awning, blind, flag, device, costume or representation.

Promotional material is any document or article distributed or provided for the purpose of promotion, advertisement, announcement or direction.

In other words, cancel that streaker and think twice about renting out that building façade!

Turning a blind eye is no defence

A person is to be treated as engaging in advertising activity in a wide variety of circumstances, not just because they fit the traditional mould of being an advertiser. A person engages in advertising activity if:

  • that person undertakes advertising activity, maintains an advertisement or arranges for advertising activity to take place or
  • advertising activity relates to a good, service, business or other concern in which that person has an interest or for which the person is responsible (including as an officer or manager) or
  • advertising activity takes place on land, premises or other property that the person owns or occupies or of which the person has responsibility for the management. There are very limited exceptions to this, essentially to cover rights to demonstrate, publicise a belief, cause or campaign or mark or commemorate an event.

There are also exceptions for individuals (but not advertisers) who wear advertising attire, display an advertisement on their body or carry personal property on which advertising is displayed. This applies though only if the individual didn't know or suspect they were caught up in an ambush marketing campaign.

There is also a comprehensive list of specific items which are permitted on a blanket basis provided the applicable criteria are met, many based on pre-existing planning regulations. These essentially cover forms of advertising which because of their nature cannot be removed (e.g. on aircraft), are rightly tolerated (e.g. memorials) or are part of the fabric of everyday life (e.g. shop name signs or adverts shown on a one to one basis, such as on screens of personal technology devices). LOCOG can also give specific permission for bespoke advertising activities.

What trading is banned?

A person may not engage in trading activity in any event zone during the specified periods. A trading activity is:

  • selling an article
  • supplying a service
  • appealing for money or property for charitable or any other purposes
  • providing public entertainment

A person is treated as engaging in a trading activity in similar circumstances to advertising activity above (i.e. not just the street trader, but the wider chain of activity).

As with advertising, there are appropriate exceptions and blanket permissions, ranging from selling newspapers to carrying out deliveries. Trading on land adjacent to specified categories of retail premises is also specifically permitted, e.g. petrol stations, shops, restaurants, bars or other premises for the supply of meals, refreshments or alcohol – but only if that trading activity on the land forms part of the usual business and takes place during opening hours of the business.

Again, LOCOG can also give permission for bespoke street trading activities.

Accidental ambush

There is a defence for those who inadvertently engage in ambush marketing if:

  • activity took place without knowledge or
  • that person took all reasonable steps to prevent activity taking place.


The regulations have actual bite. They sit within a suite of games related legislation which means you can end up in court, face fines of tens of thousands of pounds and have offending materials taken away and activities stopped. And remember, it's not just the advertiser or on the ground street trader who's on the hook.

So, what next?

The regulations move to committee stage in the House of Lords on Tuesday 25 October and the timetable thereafter for their being brought into force is likely to be swift.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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Vanessa Barnett
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