Are strict rules playing into the hands of ambush marketers?

The official definition of ambush marketing printed in the IOC Olympic marks handbook is as follows ‘A planned attempt by a third party to associate itself directly or indirectly with the Olympic Games to gain the recognition and benefits associated with being an Olympic partner’.

With just a little over a year to go until London 2012, the world is beginning to turn its attention to Stratford, East London. The Olympics is the biggest show on earth but not everyone is willing to pay an astronomical price to be part of the spectacle.

Although ambush marketing is a relatively new title, the concept has been around in one way or another for as long as advertising, sponsorship and marketing has existed. Early examples of the detection of the technique include Kodak in LA in 1984, Nike with the US Basketball Team in 1992 and American Express and Quantas in Norway in 1994 and Australia in 2000 respectively.

More recently Dutch Brewers Bavaria, at the 2010 Football World Cup in South Africa, were caught out when 36 women dressed in bright orange dresses entered the stands of a game between the Netherlands and Denmark. The group immediately attracted the attention of the cameras which led to them all being ejected from the stadium and two were arrested on a charge of organising “unlawful commercial activities”.

If the group had been allowed to stay in the ground would the media attention not have died down very quickly? In my opinion the officials causing the fuss made the problem far worse for themselves by ejecting them from the stadium, and also for Budweiser, the official drinks provider of the tournament.

It will be interesting to see what sort of activity arises around the 2012 games, especially given Honda’s already questionable behaviour. They were recently pulled up for their advertising campaign featuring four British Olympic athletes, allegedly to benefit from a link with the event. But who is everyone talking about – Honda or BMW? Maybe LOCOG’s strict rules are working in favour of the potential ambushers?

The strict rules concerning what it means to be an official sponsor makes the games impenetrable for many potential sponsors.

For example, many cultural organisations willing to be part of the Cultural Olympiad but with activities supported by an unofficial sponsor have found it impossible to navigate LOCOG policy and to take their sponsor alongside, this seems rather anti-Olympian and completely impractical for arts organisations that rely on sponsorship for their day to day existence. The lunacy of some of it almost makes me applaud the creativity of the ambushers – I’m definitely not one to incite such behaviour…but I will watch with interest to see how it all unfolds. It would be so good if a legacy of this games led to more practical sponsorship rules for future games, perhaps the ambushers can incite such good behaviour…!


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