Friday, July 6, 2012

Olympics 2012: Rise of the Branding Police

By writing this blog JML Communications expects a crack team of brand police to come crashing through the office windows, armed with black markers. This terrifying team of undercover marketeers will then instruct everyone to hit the delete button, under pain of Olympic disapproval.

Yes, that is a bit dramatic but surprisingly not that inaccurate either. Why? Because this year’s Olympics is subject to the most stringent restrictions ever put in place to protect sponsors’ rights to the Olympic brand.

For example, games organiser Locog has informed the media that these restrictions mean athletes cannot Tweet about brands of food they consume for lunch and spectators cannot post pictures on Facebook. Even that most private of places, the humble toilet, could be subject to the branding police placing black tape over manufacturers’ logos on soap dispensers and wash basins if they fall within the Olympic radius.

Amusing as the image is of the branding police whacking sticky tape over a toilet logo, this does have serious implications for future copyright and sponsorship law. Because a breach of these newly updated acts is a criminal offence, a power that any major brand would trade its entire marketing team’s soul for.

Locog has even managed to convince rivals Nike and Adidas to sign a historic agreement not to target each other and have areas and activity each will respect – which is the first time this kind of agreement has been made for a major global sporting event. The days of ambush marketing, where major brands would hijack another brand’s sponsored event by sending in beautiful girls wearing their logos to draw the cameraman’s eye, are apparently now over.

Additional protection has also been added to the word ‘Olympics’ and the five ring symbol. But the major change is to ban any company/person/or even inanimate vegetable from making any association with the games.

Any said vegetable using two of the following words in marketing material will be in breach of the law; Games; Two Thousand and Twelve; 2012; Twenty-Twelve. And if you say these words with another more incriminating one, such as ‘medal’ or ‘sponsor’, then you could be expressing a link with the Olympics.

Semantics and questionable criminality aside, the issue will be on how to police social media. The Beijing Olmpics had strict guidelines in place, but no way of monitoring or punishing social media lapses.

Twitter has already agreed to play ball, by banning an already identified list of hashtags which may infringe the rights of sponsors. But it will be interesting to see whether it will be possible for the Olympics to succeed where governments, corporations and panicky Facebook users have failed – to censor social media.