IOC’s brand blockade is starting to break

Ruth Mortimer

The London 2012 Olympics will go down in history as the first Games where even the ambush marketers got ambushed. Australian insurance firm iSelect is currently running an ad that plays on the notoriety of those brands unofficially cashing in on the Olympics… while conveniently promoting itself.

Apart from the iSelect cash-in, ambush marketing at the London 2012 Games has seemed pretty low key. A few brands, especially betting outfit Paddy Power, have tried very hard to stir up publicity by baiting Locog with their activity, but there has been less impact than I was expecting.

But now in a surprising twist, the Games athletes are calling for more non-official sponsors to be recognised and promoted. Many athletes have their own personal sponsors who they work with long term. Olympic 100m hurdles champion Dawn Harper took part in a campaign on Twitter this week for the relaxation of ‘Rule 40’ – which forbids athletes from taking part in any non-Olympic sponsor endorsements during the Games.

Harper was joined in her protest by other high-profile athletes including American runner Leo Manzano, who publicly complained about being unable to show off images of his footwear and comments on their performance because it is not manufactured by an official Games sponsor. He argued that the sponsorship rules are “distracting” and claimed they “take away from our Olympic experience and training”.

Other athletes are simply overjoyed at the apparent generosity of brands. The upmarket electronics brand Beats by Dr Dre delivered Union Jack-themed headphones to Team GB athletes including Tom Daley, Laura Robson and Jack Butland. Daley was seen wearing the headphones on the BBC ahead of his diving event, while Butland tweeted about the gift.

So perhaps this will be not only the first Games to feature ambushed ambushers but also the first one where athletes refuse to abide by branding regulations or simply don’t see their relevance. This may yet prove to be a major headache for both Locog and the International Olympic Committee when considering how to protect sponsors in the next Games – Rio 2016.

But coming back to the present time and London 2012, the influx of visitors to the British Isles has had an effect on the retail scene as well as the sports world. The past few months have seen an incredible influx of US stores, opening for the first time in the UK. Why now? The large numbers of overseas Olympic visitors give the US brands a level of global visibility and, despite the current double-dip recession, these brands believe that UK consumers will still spend on the right products and services.

With so much brand activity going on this summer in every corner of the UK, London 2012 is clearly the place to be. Let’s hope the Olympic sponsors feel the same way by the end of the Games after facing ongoing and increasingly sophisticated ambushes.

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