While the rest of the world will be watching to see which country brings home the most medals, brand management experts will be tuning into the Olympics for a different kind of game. Beneath the glitz and pageantry surrounding the global sporting spectacular, a branding tug of war is brewing. A handful of companies that aren’t official Olympic sponsors but are using the event to pimp their products are ticking off the International Olympic Committee (IOC). The IOC, in turn, is doing everything in its power to keep non-sponsors away from Olympic marketing gold.
The Olympic Games in London might hold the distinction for bringing ambush marketing into the spotlight. Most notably, Nike, who isn’t an Olympic sponsor, has turned up its nose at the IOC and gone ahead with a commercial entitled “Find Your Greatness.” The spot references “bringing home the glory” without infringing directly on the IOC’s strict set of guidelines.
So what words will get the IOC all over your brand like white on rice? According to New Statesman, any combination of the following will put you in hot water: “games,” “Two Thousand and Twelve,” “2012″ and “twenty twelve,” along with “gold,” “silver,” “bronze,” “London,” “medals,” “sponsor” and “summer.”
The IOC considers this brand infringement and will unleash its very large and powerful legal team to shut such ambush marketing efforts down. There’s no word on how the Olympics and their marketing police, the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games, feel about Nike’s commercial. Other brands, including the 1995 Cafe Olympic, have not been so lucky. The IOC threatened to shut the small, family-owned diner down if they did not change its name or logo. Sounds extreme, no? There are billions of dollars to be made at the Olympics and as technology progresses, the IOC has more resources to police marketing efforts. For the first time ever, the IOC has enlisted the help of Twitter monitors to comb the social media in search of brands posting unauthorized threads about the summer games. With the endless resources and big dollars behind it, the IOC looks to have a big advantage in the ambush marketing wars.
But don’t count small, spunky brands out. Ambush marketing is garnering press from around the web including the New York Times. We think this is one game that’s just beginning — and it’s too early to crown a winner just yet.