UK: Ambush Marketing And The London Olympics

Last Updated: 22 October 2012
Article by Lee Fisher

The official start of the biggest sporting event in the world is fast approaching. As the build-up gathers pace businesses are already beginning to feel the force of what is widely regarded as one of the most restrictive advertising regimes ever imposed.

Many retailers will already be wary of the legislation introduced to prevent the ever resourceful ambush marketeers (Nicklas Bendtner's underpants at Euro 2012 sporting the name of an Irish betting firm being the most recent example) however the actual scope of the legislation goes far wider and presents many a trap for unwary retailers across Britain.

Most will have some sympathy with the commercial reasons behind the one kilometre "brand-exclusion" zones imposed around Olympic venues to prevent the traditional ambush marketing (most famously utilised by Nike who purchased a building next to the Olympic village in Atlanta 1996 which it then overtly branded the Nike centre). Further, most businesses will appreciate the need to protect established trademarks such as the "Olympics" and "Paralympics" names themselves, the symbol of the Olympic rings and the official logos used in promoting London 2012.

It is the wider "association" right created by the London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Act 2006, which is likely to be of greater concern. The legislation was drafted widely to discourage the resourceful ambush marketing teams from finding loopholes. The corollary of this is that no definite rules exist as to what may or may not constitute an infringement.

The ethos of the legislation is that any advert which implies some association with the Olympics or London 2012 is likely to infringe. Any organisation that uses any of the following words (particularly two or more in combination) as part of its advertising is in danger of making such an "unlawful association": 'Games', 'Two Thousand and Twelve', '2012', 'Twenty-Twelve', 'Gold', 'Silver', 'Bronze', 'London', 'Summer' and 'Medals'. It is also possible to create an "unlawful association" without using any of those words.

The penalties and enforcement measures are also particularly onerous with fines and compensation orders available as well as police officers and officials having the right to enter premises to remove and destroy advertising materials (although the latter is likely only to be used near Olympic venues).

However retailers should be wary that it is not just TV or billboard advertising which is caught by the Act. It extends to posters in windows or even blackboards outside pubs and restaurants. A café in London has already been forced to change its name to the "Lympic Café" and a florist in Stoke on Trent to remove its display which incorporated a version of the Olympic rings. These are merely early instances of more blatant infringements (even though undoubtedly done in an entirely innocent manner).

There are a number of defences available but the one which is likely to be most commonly argued is use of statements of fact providing that such statements are made in accordance with honest commercial practices and not made gratuitously for purely marketing purposes. It is clear however that the Organising Committee read such a provision extremely narrowly. Businesses and retailers, particularly those close to Olympic venues, should be particularly wary of any advertising which associates itself with London 2012 as it is likely that there will be many other stories of businesses unexpectedly falling foul of the rules before London 2012 draws to a conclusion.

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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