The Greatest Show on Earth ©

In just over 60 days the Games of the 30th Olympiad will get underway in London.  Since the announcement was made in Singapore back in July 2005, the city has been preparing for the biggest show on earth.  With all of the venues now ready and in most cases tested, the biggest headache for the London Organising Committee (LOCOG) is trying to prevent ambush marketing ruining the commercial side of the event.

Companies today often spend thousands of pounds to protect their brand online, utilising the kind of technology that sets companies such as Envisional apart from traditional security firms.  Logo scanning, social media monitoring and anti-counterfeit analysis is all very important for firms who are official Olympic partners.  After all they will have paid between £10 and £80 million to have their name associated with the games and want to ensure that they get global exposure without any fear of competitors spoiling their canvas.  But Ambush Marketing as we have seen from previous global sporting events is the biggest headache the brand managers will face in the run up and during the games.

Ambush marketing is defined as a marketing strategy in which a non-authorised brand connects itself to a major sporting event without paying any sponsorship fee.  To understand exactly how much of a problem this is for the forthcoming Olympic Games can be seen by a recent survey by digital agency Jam.  They found through their monitoring of internet conversations that Nike were the brand most associated with the Olympics with 7.7% of online conversations. What sponsor wouldn’t be happy with those results?  Well how about Adidas who had paid millions to be an official partner of London 2012 whilst Nike had paid absolutely nothing.

The second most associated brand was also not an official partner - HSBC Group getting more online Olympic attention than Lloyds TSB who had paid significantly for the privilege.

Two years ago during the FIFA World Cup in South Africa one of the most controversial events was the ejection and arrest of a number of young Dutch women at one of their games for simply wearing orange dresses.

The event was “sponsored” by the Dutch brewer Bavaria and whilst virtually everyone who saw the girls simply thought they were dressed in the national orange, the FIFA brand police had spotted offending labels on the clothes that breached the marketing policy of the event. Herein lays the dilemma.  By acting in the way they did, FIFA brought global attention to the situation and the brand association for the non-rights holder.  Bavaria became a global brand through Ambush Marketing.

Previous sporting tournaments have seen spectators have items of food and drink removed on entering the event simply because they were not official brands of the sponsors.  Such actions only damage the perception of the games and with social media now being the most popular online activity, news of such incidents will spread like wild fire.  With the games being dubbed as the “Social Media Olympics”, Twitter and Foursquare have already stated their intent to work with the official brands.  Non-sponsors will not be able to buy promoted Twitter ads based on Olympic-related tags such as #London2012, whilst Foursquare will only allow official sponsors to check-in around the Olympic Park zone.

So who will be the gold medal marketing winners this summer?  The Sponsors who have paid millions of pounds?  Or those who have paid nothing to be associated with the games?  Only time will tell.

Written by Stuart Fuller, Director of Communications Group NBT.
NetNames is a part of Group NBT Limited.