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Brand Thinking Blog
Posted on July 31, 2012 at 4:44 pm
Paging Winston Smith. While the Olympic games are in full swing, a group of thought police known as The Olympic Delivery Authority is sweeping the “Olympics Brand Exclusion Zone,” looking for any suspected infringement of sponsoring brands, such as Coke and Adidas. The enforcers go armed with a long list of banned words, including: “Olympics”, “games”, “London”, “Summer”, “2012”, “Medals” and any potentially offending symbols, such as the famous five interlocking rings or a rival logo. These guys are not messing around. So far, 800 retailers inside the Olympics have been banned from serving that English fast food staple, chips, in deference to sponsor McDonalds.
In addition, athletes who have been sponsored by their families, friends and home businesses can’t tweet about it if they mention the names of their sponsors. Violation can result in fines of up to $30,000 and offending participants can actually get booted from competition. So, let’s be clear how this works: no taking photos of players with brand names behind them and posting them to your Facebook page. No waltzing in with your friends carrying bottles of Pepsi. Do not attempt to put a sign in your shop window welcoming the 2012 Olympics to London. And absolutely no criticizing this whole thing in a marketing blog (oops).
Even George Orwell couldn’t have dreamt this scenario up.
To be fair, ambush marketing—such as that practiced at the Atlanta Games in 1996, when Nike bought billboards all around the stadium instead of paying to be an official sponsor—has been a troubling and costly fact for previous Olympic committees. Still, this level of brand censorship is unheard of. Games overlord LOCOG (The London Organizing Committee of the Olympic Games) defends its hardline approach by claiming it had to offer such extensive protections in order to secure sponsorship, without which, there would be no Olympics at all. (In reality, according to The Guardian, corporations pay for less than 10% of the Olympics costs.)
Predictably, the rigid brand censorship has not gone down well with the public. Google the phrase “Olympics branding” and the second hit is “branding police.” Everyone from advertising agencies to competing athletes has criticized the branding restrictions, and many online commentators have threatened to boycott the sponsors. Even the founder of the Olympics sponsorship program is on record saying LOCOG has gone too far (Bloomberg).
Protecting your brand from infringement is obviously an important part of doing business. But goodwill is crucial in building and maintaining a brand. This is especially important for professional service firms, whose bread-and-butter derives from referrals and personal relationships with clients. In this age of social media, bad feeling can spread like a virus through online channels such as Twitter and Facebook. Tempering reasonable safeguards of your brand with a clear understanding of your audience is key to getting the gold.
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