Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Don’t mess with the Olympic brand police!

By the time you read this the Olympics will have started. Danny Boyle’s spectacular opening will have happened. The world will have joined the 60,000 who witnessed the dress rehearsal mainly in awe according to twitter feedback. Many may have found the 24 dedicated BBC Olympic channels followed by the same again in HD making sure we don’t miss anything even if we want to.

My favourite description of the Olympics is that every four years the world's greatest advertisers get together and compete, and there also happens to be a sporting event at the same time. Now before anyone starts, as an individual I am an Olympic fan. I look forward to witnessing some of the superhuman feats I expect we will see in this country.

My issue is not with the event, it is also not with how it is sponsored. Lets be realistic, this thing costs a lot of money and even King Midas would run out of household furniture to touch to fund a modern Olympics. My issue is with the extensive actions the Olympics “brand police” are taking to protect sponsors exclusivity rights.

The first sight of this was in 2007 when a butcher in Tamworth, where the Olympic sailing will be held, was told to remove a sign showing sausages in the shape of the Olympic rings. That’s right, 5 whole years before the games started. As the games get closer this is getting worse. In Plymouth a café was told to remove its “flaming torch breakfast baguette” off the menu. In Stoke on Trent one florist had to remove an Olympic rings window display, made of tissue paper, or risk a £20,000 fine.

Evan Davies interviewing Lord Coe on Radio 4 asked him if he would be allowed to turn up in a Pepsi t-shirt. Lord Coe’s response? "No, you probably wouldn't be walking in with a Pepsi T-shirt because Coca-Cola are our sponsors and they have put millions of pounds into this project but also millions of pounds into grassroots sport. It is important to protect those sponsors” A Locog spokesman later went into PR retreat stating that you could wear one but if there seemed to be an “ambush marketing” activity with lots of people turning up then they would be stopped which is fair enough.

It was an Englishman, Michael Payne, former free style skier and the International Olympic Committee’s first marketing director who created the Olympic Partner programme. It was his savvy dealings and ideas that turned an almost bankrupt movement into the multi million pound operation it is today through long term big money sponsorships and TV deals. Unsurprisingly he now works for Formula One. However even he, in an interview in the Independent Newspaper, accused Locog and the IOC of taking the brand protection too far and that they may even create a backlash from sponsors worried about negative publicity.

However this will all now be forgotten for the next three weeks and the focus will rightly be on the athletes as they chase glory. I hope though that the lessons will be learnt and although the big sponsors are required, the draconian protection of their sponsorship is not.

Tim Youngman is head of digital marketing for Archant follow him on Twitter @timyoungman

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