The FIFA World Cup takes place every four years, each time in a different part of the world (this time in Russia from 14 June – 15 July), and brings sharp global focus for the duration of the event. With such phenomenal interest in the event, businesses across the globe look to take advantage of the opportunity to market their products and services to audiences on a mass scale. Care should be taken by retailers, when planning advertising campaigns to coincide with the event, so as not to fall foul of some tricky IP and advertising legal issues.

‘Ambush marketing’ and IP infringement

FIFA owns most, if not all, intellectual property rights (IPR) associated with the World Cup tournament, which are likely to be protected on a worldwide basis. Official sponsors pay huge sponsorship fees in exchange for use of FIFA’s protected trademarks and the right to associate themselves with the tournament for marketing purposes. Attempts by companies to associate themselves with an official event when they are not an official sponsor is known as ‘ambush marketing’. Any unauthorised use of such IPR would entitle FIFA (or its licensees) to bring a claim for infringement, most likely seeking an order to cease all use immediately and also to pay compensation.

A high-profile example of this came in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa when a group of 36 females entered the stadium together, dressed as Danish fans, and during the match revealed bright orange clothing supplied by Bavaria (the Dutch beer producer). Bavaria was not an official sponsor of the event and a media storm ensued, leading to arrests being made of the stunt organisers under South African intellectual property laws. The ex-footballer and, at the time, well known TV pundit, Robbie Earle, was subsequently sacked by ITV as it transpired he had provided his allocation of free tickets to Bavaria.

Whether or not such ‘ambushes’ constitute a breach of enforceable legal rights will depend on the facts in each case including whether or not there has been any unauthorised use of IPR or any misleading connections made between advertisements and the event in question.

World Cup laws

Special ‘World Cup laws’ have also been introduced by Russia to enforce even stricter protection for FIFA and official sponsors against ambush marketing within the territory itself – making unauthorised association with the event a specific offence, liable to personal and corporate fines and even criminal prosecution.

Misleading advertising

In addition to any action that FIFA or official sponsors may bring for infringement of specific IPR, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) may also take action for misleading advertising arising from ambush marketing campaigns. The Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) Code states that advertising must not mislead consumers by implying that an official relationship exists when it does not. The CAP Code applies to online/social media as well as any advertising or promotions in other channels. The overall impression of the advert, including any imagery used, would be taken into account and an adverse ASA adjudication could attract significant negative publicity.

Dos and don’ts

Some useful pointers for businesses that are not official FIFA sponsors:

  • Avoid using registered word marks such as WORLD CUP, RUSSIA 2018 or FIFA as well as any other phrases, slogans or taglines that are associated with the tournament
  • Do not use imagery that may be protected by IPR such as the official World Cup logo, the tournament trophy and mascot
  • Avoid using colour schemes or imagery themes that are associated with the tournament, its organisers or sponsors
  • Be careful not to create any unauthorised associations with certain players or teams
  • FIFA prohibits any commercially-branded match schedules, countdown clocks or other marketing that might suggest the business is an official partner. This extends to re-tweeting and similar re-usage of official content online
  • Any use of moving images from the tournament should not feature any of the official assets or any advertising sponsorship

Generic images of footballs or references to watching sport are unlikely to cause problems in isolation, but advertisers should always consider the overall impression created by their advert. Even if no official assets are used, would the ad suggest overall that the brand is an official sponsor?