Guest Post – Red Light on Olympic Marketing Campaigns
By Sarah Bazaraa, Pannone
With the Olympic Torch touring the UK and the countdown firmly underway Sarah Bazaraa from Manchester solicitors Pannone examines the legal implications of those businesses hoping to cash in on the games.
As the Olympic torch begins its journey around the UK it is clear that the countdown to London 2012 has well and truly begun. However, the Games may provide a bittersweet dilemma for businesses hoping to capitalise on the excitement surrounding the occasion given the strict laws restricting non-sponsors from cashing in on the Olympics brand.
London 2012 is relying on a large part of its £2 billion operating budget from sponsorship revenue. In order to secure that investment, official sponsors have been promised the right to an exclusive association with the Games. The London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) is tasked with delivering on that promise by enforcing the legislation that has been implemented to prevent other businesses exploiting London 2012 without authorisation.
LOCOG can take legal action against any business which suggests an association between its goods or services and London 2012 without consent. Any unauthorised reference to the Games in marketing or advertising campaigns may amount to a breach of the legislation and could in the most serious circumstances result in an unlimited fine and criminal liability.
Notwithstanding the seriousness of the penalties, according to a survey carried out in 2009, at least 34% of businesses intend to undertake some marketing activity connected to the London 2012 Games. However, 87% admitted that they lacked awareness of the legality of those activities.
It is therefore critical that businesses quickly familiarise themselves with the rules. This is particularly important given the far reaching scope of the law.
The question of whether or not an unlawful association with London 2012 has been created will depend on the overall impression created by the marketing material or goods in question. An association with London 2012 can be created by the use of any words, images or marks which have an association with the Olympics, or, more likely a combination of these.
The legislation indicates that use of fairly generic wording may, subject to the overall context, amount to an association with the Games in respect of which LOCOG’s consent would be required. Therefore, the use of words such as “Games”, “Two Thousand and Twelve”, “London”, “2012”, “summer”, “gold” and “medals” may fall foul of the rules.
Furthermore, the use of the Olympics’ logos and symbols are protected marks that are expressly reserved for official sponsors. This includes the Olympic rings, London 2012 emblems and even the bespoke font that is associated with the Games.
More generally, the use of athletic images, Olympics colours and representations of iconic images which evoke the spirit of the Games may contribute to a finding of an unlawful association with the 2012 Games.
Marketing teams therefore need to urgently and carefully review their summer campaigns in order to ensure that they comply with the legislation. LOCOG recommends that businesses in doubt seek independent legal advice.