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Olympic marketing – be careful what you say!

30th March 2010

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Seb Coe

Seb Coe

With 850 days to go til the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympics, many companies have planned their marketing and advertising strategies.

The closer we get to the event, we will inevitably see more and more advertising by brands and companies hoping

to associate themselves with such a sensational & prestigious event.

But businesses should bear in mind that a legal minefield awaits the unwary, and it’s crucial to get the publicity just right.

The Olympic organisers and ‘official partners’ have invested heavily to create the event, and the law aims to protect that investment and the value of licensing deals.

Back in April 2006, Seb Coe announced he wanted a “clean advertising environment” following new intellectual property rights of the new London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Act 2006.

Any non-official company’s marketing or advertising that refers to the event are very tightly restricted. The 2006 Act even clamps down on ‘ambush marketing’, whereby businesses try to advertise near an Olympics venue to bask in the event’s reflected glory.

In all these locations, businesses will have to avoid infringing something known as ‘Olympic Association Right’ under the Olympic Symbol etc (Protection) Act 1995 as well as the ‘London Olympics Association Right’ (LOar) under the 2006 Act.

Use of words such as ‘Olympic(s)’, ‘Olympian(s)’, and ‘Paralympic(s)’ are restricted. Meanwhile, a person infringes LOar if he uses a “representation” (of any kind) in the course of trade in a manner likely to suggest to the public that there is an association between the London Olympics and his goods or services.

Put simply, it’s unlawful to pass your business off as being ‘associated’ with the Games. Knowing where to draw the line can be tricky.

The 2006 Act gives some guidance, stating that when considering whether a particular advert has breached the rule, a court may “take account of” its use of specified – but otherwise innocuous – words, including ‘London’, ‘Games, ‘twenty twelve’, ‘gold’, and ‘summer’.

Errant advertisers who refuse to accept that parts of the English language may now be off-limits could face a claim for damages, an account of profits, and an injunction. They could also be prosecuted for a criminal offence.

London venue marketing specialist and Design Inc’s newly-appointed Senior Account Manager, Darren Scurville says “The 2012 Games remain a golden opportunity for brands & local businesses. However, Olympic-associated promotions can be a minefield and no company would want to infringe on the intellectual property rights. The key is knowing the safe-zone, or ‘reference without association’. There are many specialist lawyers who can help get your marketing approved. And, if you get it right, you will come out with the business equivalent of a gold medal. Get it wrong, and the disappointment of not being a business medallist could be accompanied by serious – and expensive – litigation.”