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Why marketing spells controversy for the London 2012 Olympics
Claire | August 9, 2012
Excitement, controversy, thrilling highs and anguished lows – the intense flurry of marketing activity surrounding the Olympics has enough thrills and spills to rival the Games themselves.
As with the actual sporting events, there are always winners and losers with Olympic marketing. With an estimated two-thirds of the London 2012 organising committee’s ₤2 billion operating budget raised through corporate sponsorship, bidding to become an official sponsor is a fiercely competitive business, with some of the biggest brands on the planet forking out millions of pounds for exclusive rights to have their names associated with the Games.British Airways, for example, has forked out an estimated ₤4 million to be associated with London 2012, and that’s before any spend on nuts-and-bolts marketing. In return, the rights of sponsors to parade their name about in association with the Games is fiercely protected, with strictly enforced rules threatening tough financial penalties for anyone who dares infringe upon marketing contracts by daring to use the name of the Games in vain.
And therein lies much of the controversy of Olympics marketing. Backed by Parliament, organisers of London 2012 have drawn up the most draconian set of marketing rules to date, threatening fines of up to ₤30,000 for anyone who dares create the impression of ‘an association’ with the Games without forking out to be an official sponsor. One business to fall foul of the rules was a butcher in Weymouth, the location of the Games’ yachting events, who was asked to remove a display of sausages arranged in the shape of the Olympic rings.
Not that the strict code has stopped the hardiest of ‘ambush marketers’ from trying to muscle in on the act. Hip-Hop superstar Dr Dre has got the marketing police all hot under the collar by sending special country-branded versions of his Beats headphones to prominent athletes, securing TV coverage from the likes of swimming star Michael Phelps as he wore the headphones during warm-up, and favourable social media mentions after Team GB members Laura Robson, Jack Butland and Tom Daley tweeted about receiving the gift.
With Beats not being an official sponsor of London 2012 or the International Olympics Committee (IOC), the stunt openly flouts strict rules preventing athletes from wearing gear from non-sponsors, talking about non-sponsor products on social media or even promoting the brands of their own personal sponsors. However, with an increasing number of athletes openly protesting against these strict conditions laid down in Rule 40 of the IOC code of conduct, it is debatable what action the authority can actually take to clamp down on Beats – much to the chagrin, one suspects, of official sponsor Panasonic.
Seasoned ambush marketer Nike has, as usual, taken the game to another level. The sportswear giant – a direct rival of official sponsor Adidas – has released a YouTube advert featuring amateur athletes competing in different places around the world called London, under the strapline ‘Find Your Greatness’. By not making any direct reference to London 2012 or the Olympics, the campaign has successfully escaped sanction, although the implied association coupled with the controversy surrounding it could arguably make more of an impact than anything attempted by Adidas in its official sponsor capacity.
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