LONDON (Reuters) - A crackdown by ‘logo police’ on brands being linked to the Olympics without official sponsorship rights is proving a challenge rather than hindrance for some companies who are relishing testing the limits.
London Games organizers have enforced strict rules to protect official trademarks and stop ambush marketing but have been accused of “lunacy” for ordering shops to remove sausages, flowers and bagels shaped as the Olympic rings.
Within the Olympic Park, sushi boxes come without soy sauce or wasabi as the vendors are unable to find sachets that do not feature brand logos.
Some food stalls are selling chocolate, chewing gum and savory snacks from under the counter as they cannot display items not produced by key sponsors.
Outside the park, companies are coming up with novel ways to piggyback on the Games without running foul of a 2006 British law that tightened protection for Olympic sponsors and has the clout of fines of 20,000 pounds ($30,000).
A glasses company has teased organizers over poor eyesight after a flag blunder, an off-license offered discounts to people with items from non-Olympic sponsors and a betting agency threatened legal action after being told to remove ads.
Rupert Pratt, managing director at sponsorship agency Generate, said the stunts could set a precedent for what brands can and cannot do to get around the Olympic rules.
“The Olympic movement does a fantastic job of scaremongering to protect its sponsors but the reality is that if you look at the ambushing rules there is a lot that can be done,” Pratt told Reuters after a day watching diving at the Olympic Park.
“So far LOCOG (the London Olympic organizer) is doing the smart thing by not getting dragged into a public battle with companies taunting it but this is testing the legislation.”
A group of 11 international companies sponsor the event, paying nearly $1 billion for the chance to have their brand associated with the Games and the Olympic rings over four years.
A further 700 million pounds ($1.1 billion) has been paid by 42 domestic sponsors.
LOCOG argues a failure to protect the interests of sponsors would result in British taxpayers having to pick up the tab for staging the Games, beyond the 9.3 billion pounds ($14.6 billion) already forked out for its infrastructure.
Under rules to protect sponsors, the logos of competitors are banned from Games venues, advertising is outlawed in ‘event zones’ around the arenas and non-Olympic businesses cannot use images like the Olympic rings or terms like ‘London 2012’.
But the rigorous enforcing of the laws by the so-called ‘Olympics brand police’, a team of 250 lawyers and enforcement officers, has upset civil rights campaigners.
“As global attention turns to Britain, surely we should be showcasing the best of our democratic traditions - not adopting practices totally out of keeping with freedom and fairness,” said Sophie Farthing of the human rights group Liberty.
The testing of boundaries by certain companies has ensured the issue remains in the public debate.
Glasses company Specsavers used a diplomatic blunder by Olympic staff mixing up the North and South Korean flags at a football game to design an ad written partly in Korean with the two flags and a strapline: “Should have gone to Specsavers”.
Oddbins, an off-license chain, launched a marketing campaign challenging the branding restrictions and urging other businesses to follow suit to highlight the “ridiculous rules”.
The off-license has offered 30 percent discount to customers with a list of items of non-Olympics sponsors such as Nike trainers, Vauxhall car keys, an RBS MasterCard, an iPhone, a bill from British Gas and a receipt for a Pepsi bought at KFC.
Bookmaker Paddy Power was told to remove posters advertising its official sponsorship of the “largest athletics event in London this year”, referring to an egg and spoon race in London in Savigny-sur-Seille, France.
Paddy Power spokesman Ken Robinson said the bookmaker had worked hard to ensure the ad did not violate any Olympic rules and it threatened to seek a court order against LOCOG.
LOCOG backed down and the posters are still up.
“We like to be a bit anti-establishment and push the envelope but we had done our homework,” said Robinson.
“I think people are terrified to do something that potentially could violate the Olympic legislation.”
Editing by Tony Jimenez