Ambush Marketing: The Names That Cannot Be Spoken… (Part 1)

2010. Winter. Games.   As the 2010 Olympics reach a frenzied pitch in Vancouver, the contests on the ice and snow will be matched by brand battles on billboards and posters.  You will recall that in Beijing, the “Brand Police”  (see: Olympics and the Trade-Mark Police) covered up offending trade-marks with duct tape. Not just in Olympic venues, but throughout the city.  Such practices have now come to Canada, where Olympic volunteers risk having their shoes and t-shirts swaddled in duct tape to cover up the brands of companies who are not official sponsors. 

Some retailers have danced close to the line (such as Lululemon’s famous dig at Olympic brand-control), and some knock-offs have been caught when they stepped over the line.

When VANOC assesses whether a product or advertisement offends the Olympic brand they look at the following factors. Essentially, they will be looking to see if the use of the Olympic marks falsely creates the impression of a business association with the Olympics.

  • Factually accurate use: When the Olympic brand is used, is it used accurately and without distortion or modification?
  • Relevant use: VANOC is less likely to object if the use is relevant to a larger storyline and isn’t so gratuitous or disproportionate that it creates the impression of a business association with the Olympics. 
  • Commercially neutral: VANOC is less likely to object if the brand is used in a commercially-neutral manner that does not create the impression of a business association with the Olympics. 
  • Undue prominence: How much prominence is given to the brand?  
  • Use of Olympic or Paralympic visuals: Use of Olympic visuals in connection with a business  – logos, archival Games images, team uniforms or Olympic medals – is a red-flag for VANOC.
  • Unauthorized association: This is a catch-all category – VANOC will look at surrounding circumstances such as the timing and strategic placement of the advertising in question.

Companies wishing to publish last-minute advertisements in the lead-up to the 2010 Games are encouraged to seek advice before they go to print with ads, signage or product packaging.  It is worth noting that Lululemon, though they were publicly scolded by VANOC, has not been met with any other threats or cease-and-desist letters. So they appear to have found the line, and stayed on the right side of it.

Related Reading: Olympic Lawsuits, Our Trademark Anthem

Calgary – 09:00 MST

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