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Marketing body condemns 'draconian' Olympic law

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The law that restricts use of words associated with the 2012 Olympic Games in London is heavy-handed, too restrictive and will damage the interests of businesses across the UK, the Chartered Institute of Marketers (CIM) has said.

The Olympics Act of 2006 bans the use of terms such as 2012, games, gold, silver and bronze in combination except by those who are official sponsors of the Olympic Games and allows the Games' authorities to control advertising around the venues used in the Games.

These restrictions are too severe, according to a paper just published by the CIM.

"If the 2006 Act has been designed to defeat ambush marketing, it has been executed in a heavy-handed, blanket way that fails to give allowance to the (by Olympic standards) minuscule efforts of small and medium-sized companies to gain some benefit from the presence of the Games," said the paper, The event that dare not speak its name: Marketing and the Olympics.

"Even official suppliers to the event are not entitled to associate their companies with the Games in terms of advertising, promotions or even in formal discussions with other companies when seeking other business," it said.

The law means that advertisers cannot use any two of the following terms together: 'Games', 'Two thousand and twelve', '2012' and 'Twenty twelve'. Neither can they use one of those terms in conjunction with any of: 'Gold', 'Silver', 'Bronze', 'London', 'Medals', 'Sponsors', 'Summer'. Breaking the terms of the Act could result in a £20,000 fine.

"By treating certain combinations of words as cause for prosecution the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is throwing the baby out with the bathwater," said the CIM. "Major corporate sponsors do not need such draconian legislation from a body that seems keener to protect large international companies than support its own grass roots businesses and entrepreneurs."

The measures are designed to combat 'ambush marketing', the practice of companies attempting to use a sporting or cultural event to achieve exposure for their brand or products without actually paying to sponsor the event.

The CIM and polling firm Ipsos MORI surveyed marketers earlier this year and found that 42 per cent of them expected to carry out some Olympics-related marketing activity in the run-up to the 2012 Games.

The CIM's research found, though, that most companies are unaware of the restrictions placed on them by the Olympics Act. It found that 40 per cent of companies had no understanding of the Act and 46 per cent had a poor understanding, leaving just 14 per cent of firms with a claim to having a good understanding of the legislation.

"The enthusiasm generated by Britain’s Olympic glory may quickly evaporate once businesses come to terms with the Olympics Act," said David Thorp, the director of research at the CIM in the paper's introduction. "Those hoping to bask in London’s moment in the sun may be surprised at how restrictive the provisions of the Olympics Act are."

Thorp said, though, that there will be some opportunities for firms to create associations with the Games, but they might have to think creatively and start planning early.

"Those marketers who plan ahead and dedicate themselves to exploring and exploiting the numerous Olympic opportunities still available, will be well placed to make the most of this exceptional event, and turn it into a British success both on and off the field," he said.

The paper advises companies to tender for work associated with the Games, and if they are associating themselves with the Games through advertising, to do it generally and not specifically.

"Imaginative and non-specific associations with health, fitness and athleticism will not infringe the Olympics Act," it said.

The legislation is similar to that used for the first time at the Sydney games in 2000 and is designed to help Games organisers to protect the investment put into the Games by official sponsors.

A number of high-profile instances of hijacking took place during the 1990s, including an incident at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics when British sprinter Linford Christie wore contact lenses containing the logo of Puma, which was not an official sponsor of the Games.

The legislation created a new right, a London Olympics Association Right (LOAR) and extended the Olympic Symbol etc. (Protection) Act of 1995. The Games also enjoy normal legal protection from trade mark infringement and passing off.

The CIM said that the law will disproportionately punish smaller firms. "Ambush marketing attempts are made by major companies, for whom it’s sometimes worth the threat of fines, to get some valuable promotion," it said. "Yet, as a result, it is the SMEs and regional companies that will be the ones to suffer unnecessarily under the Act."

Copyright © 2008, OUT-LAW.com

OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

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