Is the whole Olympic branding saga now just going too far?

Olympic branding - If you are thinking of making Olympic rings with sausages; be warned – the Olympic branding police might be knocking on you door

Next week the “greatest” show on earth rolls into town and poor Londoners are already suffering.  The prospect of hosting the games has led to a rollercoaster of emotion.  Elation at being awarded the games; embarrassment as the whole legacy of the venue is tarnished in political infighting and legal (and criminal) investigations; joy, at the thought of seeing some of the world’s greatest athletes perform; frustration as the ticketing process is reduced to a farce.  But now with just a few days to go, we are seeing the frankly petty and unsporting side - welcome to the Olympic branding police.

Counterfeiting is an age old practice and costs brands billions of dollars every year.  But there is a big difference between someone selling fake goods sporting official Olympic logos, and businesses trying to make a living.  Back in 2006, just a few months after London were awarded the games, the Labour Government passed the London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Act.  This new law, when combined with the Olympic Symbol Act of 1995 gave the International Olympic Committee and its official sponsors huge powers to stop what they referred to as “brand confusion”. The act basically bans unauthorized association or use of any words, images or slogans that could confuse the general public into thinking a non-sponsor was actually a sponsor.

So businesses using the word “Olympic” in their name can be forced to change their business title, or cover up anything showing that name.  Olympic Taxis, Olympic Rings (Jewellers) Ltd, Mount Olympic photo framing (I have made these up but I’m pleased with the latter two) would all be infringements of the Olympic branding.  It gets worse.

The BBC reported the case of a butcher in Weymouth back in 2007 who placed a sign on his window to depict the Olympic rings made entirely of sausages. He was forced to change his display.  Likewise, pubs advertising the fact they will be showing events live cannot use the word Olympics - The London Games is fine, but any reference to the Olympics or 2012 is banned.

It is not just traditional companies that have fallen foul of the rules.  Online businesses have suffered at the hands of the IOC brand police.  Obviously some people have tried to take advantage of the games by registering domain names with the words “Olympic” and “London 2012” in them, but some names genuinely back up bricks and mortar businesses.  The for instance is in breach of the IOC guidelines yet it is a home page of a restaurant on the island of Sami, some 1,200 miles away from London. are landscape gardeners from Northern Ireland, yet also falls foul tothe branding police.

It is understandable that some venues have had to have been renamed - The O2 Arena will become the North Greenwich Arena for the duration of the games, likewise the City of Coventry Stadium takes over from the Ricoh Arena but is it really necessary that small companies who have traded in some cases for decades are being forced to comply with an organization who will be “here today, gone tomorrow”?

Remember, for all the good the sponsors money brings in terms of helping to fund the games, the general public still see things differently.  In a study carried out earlier this year by digital agency Jam, the brand most associated with the Olympics based on web “chat” and social media was Nike, who of course are not an official sponsor! As the old saying goes, “You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make it drink”.


Written by Stuart Fuller, Director of Communications, NetNames

18 July 2012