‘Brand police’ deployed to hunt out ambush marketeers

This entry was posted on Friday, July 20th, 2012 at 10:45 AM

‘Britain flooded with ‘brand police’ to protect sponsors’, screamed the headline in the Independent on Tuesday 18 July. I’m not sure if Independent headlines really do scream but it was enough to draw me in.

According to the report, hundreds of uniformed Olympics officers have been dispatched to tour the UK, checking companies to make sure they’re not ‘ambush marketing’ or illegally associating themselves with the Games at the expense of official sponsors.

Businesses have been warned that, during the Games, they are banned from using certain words in their advertising. I must admit, I’m a little baffled by some of the words on the banned list.

As the Independent points out, it’s a “highly organised mission that contrasts with the scramble to find enough staff to secure Olympic sites”.

It’s the biggest brand protection operation ever staged in the UK and legislation has been specially introduced for the London Games. It gives the officers the right to enter shops and offices and bring court action with fines of up to £20,000.

Companies such as Adidas, McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, and BP have paid large sums to be official sponsors of the Games as well as investing millions in the development and protection of their brands.  I absolutely agree that they are entitled to exclusivity and a certain amount of protection.

But seriously, can the rest of us really be prosecuted for using words such as ‘summer’ and ‘London’ in our marketing material? Yes, they really are on the banned list along with:


Two thousand and twelve


Twenty Twelve






OK, I’m exaggerating slightly for effect: it is contextual. The Olympic Delivery Authority, who is responsible for the ‘brand police’, has supplied examples set out in handy categories.

Under ‘Property’ they give two examples of an advertisement for a block of flats – one would be allowed; the other wouldn’t:

Allowed: Stratford Mansions. 1 & 2 bedroom flats, £220,000 to £350,000; 5 minutes’ walk to Stratford International Station; next to Olympic Park; 15 minutes commute to Canary Wharf.

Banned: Simplefields Homes. An Olympic investment not to be missed! 1 and 2 bedroom flats, luxurious fittings, 5 minutes’ walk to Stratford International Station

Really? I’m sorry but I fail to see how using the word ‘Olympian’ affects the main sponsors in any way.

Or take this one aimed at pubs:

Allowed: A blackboard sign outside the Red Lion saying: ‘Watch the Olympic Games here with a cold beer… Live coverage all day.’

Banned: Brewer’s posters displayed outside the Red Lion with the message: Grogglington’s Bitter: Watch the Olympics here’

If a company rips off the Adidas logo, blatantly uses McDonald’s colours in its own design, or plagarises Coca Cola’s strapline, then yes, they should be prosecuted.

But then again, take a stroll down any of the aisles in your local supermarket and take a look at the similarities in packaging design between some of the supermarket’s own brand products and their more well-known counterparts. And yet they get away with it.

So why have the powers that be suddenly become so rigorous? And will they continue to hunt down brand theft after the Games to protect businesses as a matter of course?

Yes, the official sponsors are paying enormous amounts of money (and getting tax exemptions too of course), and yes, in part they are making the Games possible.

But I’d argue that we’re all contributing one way or another, be that in increased council tax, inconvenience and loss of revenue to business through travel disruption, and through road closures during the road events.

Surely we should be allowed to capitalise on what we keep being told is a ‘once in a lifetime opportunity’ without blatantly stealing from the main sponsors?

(Please note lack of images and carefully worded headline. I don’t want those purple clad people knocking at my door!)



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Hello. I'm Elaine, I'm a copywriter and this is my blog.

It's mostly about words and writing - things that inspire me, entertain me, and make me smile. Sometimes it's about things that horrify me so much I want to scream and shout!

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