Pub­li­ca­tions

Pro­tec­tion of the Olympic Brand — mar­keters beware


In Brief

With the Lon­don 2012 Olympic Games fast approach­ing adver­tis­ers and mar­keters must be care­ful how they asso­ciate them­selves with the Olympics and the Olympic brand.


The suc­cess of an Olympic Games is not only mea­sured by ath­let­ic achieve­ments on the track or in the gym­na­si­um. The eco­nom­ic suc­cess of the Games has a sub­stan­tial impact on a host city’s Olympic lega­cy. Eco­nom­ic suc­cess is assessed by the host city’s abil­i­ty to max­i­mize income gen­er­at­ed from cor­po­rate spon­sor­ship, media rights, tourism and tick­et sales. Pro­tect­ing the Olympic brand is a key fea­ture of any Games’ com­mer­cial suc­cess. Olympic brand pro­tec­tion finds its basis in the Olympic Char­ter. His­tor­i­cal­ly, the Olympic move­ment has zeal­ous­ly pro­tect­ed the use and licens­ing of the Olympic Brand. 

Glob­al brand pro­tec­tion framework

It is incum­bent upon the host coun­try to man­age domes­tic spon­sor­ship, tick­et­ing and licens­ing pro­grams under the direc­tion of the Inter­na­tion­al Olympic Com­mit­tee (IOC). The IOC ensures that host coun­tries com­ply with spe­cif­ic guide­lines regard­ing intel­lec­tu­al prop­er­ty pro­tec­tion. For this rea­son, sim­i­lar Olympics laws have been draft­ed in sev­er­al coun­tries pri­or to host­ing the Games. The imple­men­ta­tion of these laws ensures that the prof­it gen­er­at­ed from use of the Olympic brand stays inside the Olympic fam­i­ly”. Also, pro­tect­ing and enforc­ing the intel­lec­tu­al prop­er­ty is essen­tial to ensure that the Olympic Games remains a viable finan­cial real­i­ty, with huge mon­ey com­ing from the select few cor­po­rate sponsorships. 

Lon­don 2012

All of the offi­cial names, phras­es, marks, logos are designs asso­ci­at­ed with the Lon­don 2012 Games and the Olympic and Par­a­lympic Move­ments are pro­tect­ed by laws in the Unit­ed King­dom. Par­tic­u­lar to these games are the Lon­don 2012 Olympic and Par­a­lympic emblems, the Lon­don 2012 mas­cots, the words Lon­don 2012”. The www​.lon​don2012​.com web­site claims that the Lon­don Organ­is­ing Com­mit­tee must care­ful­ly man­age how the Games’ marks are used and what the Lon­don 2012 brand stands for. It states: 

We have a more imme­di­ate need and oblig­a­tion to pro­tect and main­tain the cur­rent com­mer­cial val­ue of the Lon­don 2012 brand. The hun­dreds of mil­lions of pounds nec­es­sary to organ­ise and stage the Games is being raised by the Lon­don 2012 Organ­is­ing Com­mit­tee (LOCOG) from the pri­vate sec­tor. In return for invest­ing in the Games, we have promised our spon­sors and mer­chan­dise licensees exclu­sive rights to use the Lon­don 2012 brand and to asso­ciate it with the Games.” 

Aus­tralian example

Aus­tralia did the same for the Syd­ney 2000 Olympic Games. The Olympic Insignia Pro­tec­tion Act 1987 pro­vides that the Aus­tralian Olympic Com­mit­tee (AOC) is the nation­al own­er of the Olympic rings sym­bol, the Olympic mot­to. The AOC also owns var­i­ous reg­is­tered Olympic designs and a num­ber of torch and flame designs. The Act also pro­tects the use of the word Olympic”, Olympiad” and their plu­rals and Olympic Games” in adver­tis­ing and pro­mo­tion. The AOC and the IOC are also the reg­is­tered trade mark own­ers of scores of word and device marks asso­ci­at­ed with the Olympics. To use these pro­tect­ed Olympic expres­sions, design or marks a licence is required from the AOC or IOC

The result of the restric­tions placed on the use of the brand is that many busi­ness­es attempt to asso­ciate them­selves with the Olympics to gain the ben­e­fit of that asso­ci­a­tion with­out the leg­isla­tive autho­ri­sa­tion or licence to do so. Some busi­ness­es engage in ambush mar­ket­ing where the busi­ness seeks to asso­ciate itself with the mar­ket­ing of a par­tic­u­lar event with­out the author­i­ty from the organ­is­ers of the event. Ambush mar­ket­ing has become a com­mon part of the cor­po­rate spon­sor­ship land­scape and the Olympics are a prime tar­get for mar­keters and advertisers. 

Dur­ing the time Michael Payne was a key mar­ket­ing fig­ure in the IOC he com­ment­ed that ambush marketing: 

has become an irri­tat­ing fact of life for sports organ­i­sa­tions that seek to pro­tect the integri­ty of the spon­sor­ship pro­grams upon which many of these organ­i­sa­tions depend. No organ­i­sa­tion is more direct­ly affect­ed by the trend than Olympic Games organ­is­ers, who are striv­ing to pro­tect the rights of offi­cial Olympic spon­sors against … mar­keters who seek to lever­age the good­will and world­wide rep­u­ta­tion of the Olympic Move­ment at the expense of offi­cial spon­sors.” [1]

The chal­lenge for mar­keters is to adver­tise their prod­ucts in a cre­ative way. Whether par­tic­u­lar con­duct is infring­ing needs is to be deter­mined on a case by case basis. The extent to which par­tic­u­lar phras­es, and sym­bols are sewn up” for use by offi­cial Olympics spon­sors is an con­tro­ver­sial bal­ance.

[1] Michael Payne, Ambush Mar­ket­ing: The Unde­served Advan­tage”, (1998) 15(4) Psy­chol­o­gy and Mar­ket­ing 323 at 326.

If your busi­ness has a mar­ket­ing idea and needs to under­stand any intel­lec­tu­al prop­er­ty lim­i­ta­tions that may impact upon it, please con­tact Swaab Attorneys.