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Marketers hope to cash in on 2012, but restrictions will make it tough

Marketers hope to cash in on 2012, but restrictions will make it tough

Mark Stuart - Head of Research, The Chartered Institute of Marketing 

London 2012 is being pushed as a big opportunity for UK business, and research by The Chartered Institute of Marketing with Ipsos MORI indicates that nearly 50 per cent of UK businesses plan to do some marketing activity connected with the Olympics in the next four years.
However, the excessive restrictions of the London Olympic Games and Paralympics Games Act 2006 are going to make it hard, if not impossible, for companies to make associations between their products and services, and the Games.

Take the example of a travel agent who wants to promote holidays with the line, ‘Come to London in 2012’. Because of the Listed Expressions section of the Act, which prevents the use of certain words in combination, such an innocent-sounding tagline would be in contravention of the Act.

Should LOCOG decide to prosecute – and with the terms of the Act so all-encompassing, small companies in particular are going to be unlikely to be willing to take the risk – firms that fall foul of the Act could find them themselves fined up to £20,000.
LOCOG says that it only wants to exercise the law on a case-by-case basis, but we’d like them to state that the strict parameters of the Act are not going to be enforced on small companies that want to associate relatively harmlessly with what is, by definition, a cultural event – not a protected brand.
It’s clear that the Act has been brought in to combat the threat of ambush marketing, and this is an entirely legitimate intention, because it’s fair that the sponsors who are investing up to £80 million for 16 days’ worth of exposure, are protected from ambush marketers seeking to get publicity for nothing.
The problem with the Act as we see it however, is that the companies it will hit are of no substantial threat to the top tier sponsors anyway; and furthermore, those major companies that want to ambush will do so anyway – regardless of the threat of fines. During previous major sporting events, there has been a certain amount of legislation in place to prevent ambush marketing, which the exponents of the art have cheerfully ignored.

Most infamously, Nike sponsored the press conference when the US Athletics team won gold at Barcelona in 1992, and Michael Jordan was seen to cover up his Reebok logo. So, the Olympics Act has been brought in to be stricter – but is a £20,000 fine really going to intimidate a company that wants to ambush anyway?
Interestingly, during the Beijing Olympics, Nike was granted a waiver by the IOC to use Olympics athletes in its advertising, when Adidas was supposed to be the official sponsor. The reason given for this exception – Nike is a member of the World Federation of the Sporting Goods Industry, and as such, can seek a waiver from the ruling that no one apart from official sponsors can use Olympics athletes in advertising during the Games – seems somewhat unlikely to the suspicious mind. It could almost be viewed as a tacit acknowledgement that Nike might try to ambush anyway, so the IOC have granted them a loophole that isn’t forthcoming to anyone else.
The 2012 Olympics is currently predicted to cost £9.3 billion, and companies and London taxpayers are going to be bearing the brunt of some of that expense. The willingness and enthusiasm of organisations so far – 50 per cent of marketers The Chartered Institute of Marketing surveyed with Ipsos MORI earlier this year believed the Olympics are a good use of money, and 50 per cent also agreed that the 2012 Games will be good for the economy – may be tempered somewhat over the next few years, as companies realise just how draconian the provisions of the Olympics Act are.  

With such stringent regulations in place, many firms will begin to wonder whether the promise of the Olympics as a great opportunity for ‘UK plc’ holds as much water as they might have hoped – unless LOCOG acts to allay their fears.  

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