Russell Davies: Don't let Draconian marketing rules be the Games' legacy

By Russell Davies, campaignlive.co.uk, Thursday, 26 July 2012 08:00AM

Imagine being a social media person for an Olympic sponsor these past few weeks.

Russell Davies: Don't let Draconian marketing rules be the Games' legacy

It'd be a strange kind of nightmare, wouldn't it? You're trying to spread good cheer and positive associations, and all everyone else seems to be interested in are the bizarrely totalitarian sponsorship restrictions. You can't eat non-sponsored chips, you can't display non-sponsored flags - all that kind of stuff. It doesn't make anyone's life easier, which makes you wonder why it happens. Most marketing departments know that being petty and officious looks bad, that tearing flags down from a newsagent is counterproductive. And, in fact, when the stink gets too mighty, things change - various Games sponsors have announced they won't be taking advantage of their temporary tax breaks. Change is possible.

These things happen because our organisations are built from silos of code, culture and convention, some moving faster than others, with faults occurring at the intersections. Law, for instance, takes up a lot of time and most corporate lawyering is advising how a body of law should be interpreted in the face of a novel situation, while most marketing is there to invent and exploit novel situations. It's always a tension.

It becomes worse when you get massive, high-profile events that only swing round every few years. Everything has to get resolved at once, in the public gaze, via enormous bureaucracies. Look at the way the fuss about guerrilla marketing has been metastasised by organisational physics. An enormous - and enormously counterproductive - edifice of practice and legislation has been erected between the demands of sponsors, the promises of sponsorship departments and the blunt instrument of law and regulation. Real humans can spot the difference between a company hijacking your event and a newsagent putting up some flags, but the systems we've devised don't seem to be able to. Which is why you get movie companies suing pubs for being called The Hobbit - and looking crass and stupid as a result.

Of course, lots of companies are actually crass and stupid - that's part of the problem - but most of their employees aren't. And they're the people I feel sorry for - the ones who have to explain this stuff on Twitter or Facebook. Hopefully, those tensions will bubble up through organisations and provoke some change next time around - getting businesses to recognise that the legal department can be a source of important innovation. Apple's genius breakthrough with iTunes was the lawyering, after all - recognising that a closed loop of control meant that new deals were possible with record companies and that previously illegal downloading behaviour could be brought into the fold and monetised. Perhaps a big sponsor will become similarly enlightened and we can all just relax and enjoy the Games.

This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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