Ambush Marketing & the Law

The Oxford Dictionary defines ambush marketing as : “the practice by which a rival company attempts to associate its products with an event that already has official sponsors”

In essence ambush marketing is the unauthorised association by a business with an event whereby the business intends to benefit from the events goodwill without paying a rights fee.

A favourite on Google from May 2012 shows Fiat photobombing VW’s headquarters in Sweden. When Fiat saw the Google Street View cars roaming the streets they parked a Fiat 500 on the doorsteps of the entrance.

Soccer is no stranger to ambush marketing either. In the 2010 world cup during the Denmark and Holland match a large number of girls were removed from the stadium after being accused of being models for the Dutch beer Bavaria attempting to ambush the World Cup and its official beer sponsor, Budweiser.

Dealing with ambush marketing often involves legal proceedings however sometimes cutting off the publicity surrounding the ambusher can be as effective as often the publicity around the ambush is exacerbated by protracted proceedings. One wonders whether the “Bavaria” girls would have been noticed if FIFA simply ignored the ambush attempt.

In saying that sponsorship of events is large and organisations must protect the sponsors and monitor ambush activity and would be obliged to do so legally in any well written sponsorship agreement. The London 2012 Games are considered by legal experts to contain the most stringent restrictions ever put in place to protect sponsors brand and broadcasting rights which effectively affected every athlete, business in the UK and ticket holders. The UK already had existing copyright and contract law protections in place however in 2006 parliament passed the London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Act, which, together with existing legislation offered a special level of protection to the Games and their sponsors over and above that which already existed.

As well as providing additional protection around the word Olympics and the five rings symbol the legislation outlawed unauthorised association. It basically created a two word rule where a combination of words could not be used together i.e. expressions such as Games, 2012 and medals could not be used together.

It led to non-sponsoring brands taking strong legal advice on how to stay just the right side of the line. Recent examples from this years Olympics were the advertising campaigns by Paddy Power Bookmakers whereby it advertised on billboards that it was the official sponsor of the largest athletics event in London (London being the French town of London) and Nike who advertised Athletes in London, Norway; London, Ohio; Little London, Jamaica; Small London, Nigeria. The London Organising Committee of the Olympics demanded that the Paddy Power ads be removed from billboards however subsequently backed down when Paddy Powers sought an interim order preventing the removal of the billboards. Without commenting on the campaign itself, it was a tactical decision by the committee not to get involved in costly legal proceedings with Paddy Powers and also by doing this it removed a lot of the publicity the adverts created.

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