• Olympic Officials Clamp Down on Branding Rules
  • March 17, 2006
  • Law Firm: Reed Smith LLP - Pittsburgh Office
  • For some advertisers, a favorite Olympic sport has long been finding ways to edge their brands into the Olympic spotlight without having to pay the multimillion-dollar fee to become an official sponsor.

    During the past Winter Olympics in Italy, officials went to such lengths to protect the $80 million investments of each top-tier sponsors such as Coca-Cola, Samsung and Panasonic, that the brand policing tactics became an event of its own.

    The International Olympic Committee forbids advertising altogether at official sporting venues, and allows sponsor logos only in specific places. Athletes are only allowed to wear garments with one small (three inches or less) trademark (a name or symbol), and non-sponsors may not advertise in sight of the cameras at all.

    To enforce these rules, scores of deputized volunteers patrolled events with duct tape in hand, covering offending logos on ski competitors' helmets and ski jackets, spectators' hats, reporters' lap top computers, even bathroom facilities.

    In addition to protecting the brand investment of the official sponsors, the rules are designed to contain the overall commercialism of the Olympics, officials said.

    Reporters seemed as happy to cover the brand-wars as the sports competitions:

    • GoldenPalace.com, the online casino known for its advertising antics, successfully unfurled a banner several times and had to be repeatedly asked to remove it, the Associated Press reported. A streaker hyping GoldenPalace also appeared at the Curling competition.
    • Hockey legend Wayne Gretzky, who served as the executive director of Canada's men's hockey team and had a deal with the Roots clothing company, showed up for early-round games displaying Roots logos. However Hudson Bay Co. was the official Olympic clothing sponsor and Mr. Gretzky was asked not to wear Roots attire to subsequent events, according to AdAge.com.
    • A reporter had to take her sunglasses off at a news conference because the logo was deemed to be visible, an Associated Press reporter recounted. Another reporter was asked to place her branded bottle of water out of sight of the cameras.

    Even with extreme brand policing that matched the intensity of many of the winter sports on display, at least one imaginative marketer made its mark.

    Target aimed its way into the games' outer edge by purchasing the right to have its logo plastered onto the public transit trains taking spectators to ski and snowboard hills. Target, which does not have a store in Europe but which supports several winter X Games athletes, hired young Italians to welcome riders aboard the "Target Express" and hand out bull's-eye pins and other branded items, AdAge.com reported.

    Why This Matters: The Italy games exhibited the rising tension between Olympic officials seeking to protect the large brand investments of official sponsors, and the general expansion of branded culture and individual sponsorships. With so much at stake, ambush marketing has become a serious licensing problem that organizers, like the International Olympic Committee, have to address if they hope to continue to command millions for the privilege of sponsorship.