Cautionary Tales for Olympic Advertisers

In the build up to the Sochi Olympic Games, it is not just the security cordon that is on full alert. The Canadian Olympic Committee is aggressively pursuing any unauthorized use of its trade-marks in advertising and on products by businesses hoping to trade on the Olympic buzz. This would include SOCHI and SOCHI 2014 and a host of other brands, both words and logos, that suggest an association with the Games, such as:

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Ambush marketing or, as the COC sees it, taking an Olympic position in your advertising without paying for it, will not be tolerated.

A Canadian retailer recently launched a line of clothing bearing the date of the opening ceremonies and promoted materials that included Olympic trade-marks. Those marks were removed, but the COC is insisting that the entire line of clothing be pulled from shelves. This response is nothing new – brands were forced to remove clothing with Olympic references on them during London 2012 as well – but the COC has recently stated that it will protect the interests of its commercial rights partners in a “very aggressive way”. Ambush marketers beware.

Further, what many businesses may not know is that the Olympic Charter prevents athletes, coaches and officials who participate in the Games from allowing their name, picture, or performance to be used in any advertising from 7 days before the Games begin until 3 days after they conclude, without the prior consent of the IOC. This Rule in the Olympic Charter extends to all advertising even by official Olympic sponsors.

While capitalizing on the Olympics may seem like a winning strategy, it is not just ambush marketers looking to make a sly reference to the Games that should be wary – official sponsors must be cautious, too.