The 2012 London Olympics is more than six years away, yet tension among marketers is rising as the Government attempts to usher in laws that have been slammed as Draconian by the House of Lords.
Last week, the House began debating the anti-ambush marketing provisions in the London Olympics Bill, which will ban non-sponsors from using words such as "gold" and "summer" in ads that "seek to create an unauthorised association" with the Games.
A famous ambush-marketing example was Linford Christie's appearance at the Atlanta Olympics wearing blue contact lenses with a white Puma logo in the centre. This stimulated media interest and dismayed Reebok, an official sponsor.
At the same Games, another non-sponsor, Nike, handed out flags displaying the Nike logo to spectators and bought up all the poster sites in the city. When Starcom Media Services asked US TV viewers who the Games' official sponsors were, Nike came second.
There have been scores of similar incidents, despite attempts by the International Olympic Committee to stamp out ambush marketing with its brand protection policy. This offers brands on The Olympic Partnership programme a venue devoid of advertising or political messages. But brands still manage to subvert their non-official status, garnering coverage and exposure in the process.
It's a threat the IOC and the 2012 organisers take very seriously. Because, as Timo Lumme, the IOC's director of TV and marketing, says: "Ambush marketing has the capacity to wipe out the Olympic movement as it exists today."
He adds: "The Olympic movement is 100 per cent funded by private means; by TV rights, sponsorship, ticket sales, merchandising and licensing. What you are selling is only so valuable insofar as you are able to defend it. If it doesn't have exclusivity, it is worthless."
Unsurprisingly, a TOP sponsor McDonald's welcomes proposals in the Bill.
Lisa Howard, a McDonald's spokeswoman, says: "The IOC and national and local organising committees, need to protect sponsors against companies that would borrow off the values of the Olympic movement without any financial contribution."
But critics of the London Olympics Bill regard it as an unacceptable breach of free speech and an attack on the rights of London businesses to profit from the Games. The Bill proposes a new intellectual property right for the handful of multinational companies that will sponsor the Games. Chris Hackford, a senior legal manager at the IPA, explains: "The Bill proposes that if you use a certain combination of words you will be infringing the law. Some of the words used are very generic. We think advertisers are entitled to freedom of commercial expression and feel this bill goes too far."
Hackford believes the Olympic Symbols Protection Act of 1995 is adequate and argues advertisers that have helped build support for the bid and small businesses in the capital who are paying for the Games through taxes should be allowed to profit. He is hopeful the legislation will be watered down and praises the Government for listening to the IPA's arguments.
But even if the Government succeeds in pushing through the Bill, one ad agency head warns: "There will always be ambush marketing at international events. The new laws could be a red rag to a bull."
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IPA - Hamish Pringle, director-general, IPA
"The IPA has been arguing vigorously for a proper balance between protecting the rights of official sponsors and allowing genuine freedom of commercial expression. We have been especially keen to retain the right of local business to benefit from and contribute to this great event.
"However, despite our efforts, the Bill will still mean that anyone other than official sponsors will be unable to associate themselves in any way with the Games. We regret this missed opportunity for business, the media, and cultural institutions to leverage London's position as a global youth leader for the benefit of the Olympic movement, which, after all, was the strategy behind our winning bid."
ASA - Lord Borrie, chairman, Advertising Standards Authority
"The ad industry is concerned that the restrictions in the Bill are severe and long, going on for six-and-a-half years if it gets Royal assent.
"There's a great deal of uncertainty left by the language of the Bill,so it seems the restrictions are too heavy for just dealing with ambush marketing. The Bill reverses the burden of proof so that if certain words are used, it is automatically assumed an infringement has taken place unless the advertiser can show otherwise. The IOC had suggested that as a possibility but it hadn't said it was a requirement. I don't think the ad industry objects to special legislation but it objects to reversing the burden of proof and the timing of its introduction."
CREATIVE - Trevor Beattie, founding partner, Beattie McGuinness Bungay
"I think it's great that the Government is trying this - it's a challenge for clients who don't have a big budget, but who want a presence at the Olympics.
"What harm is done if ambush marketing is cheeky and makes people smile? It's not gatecrashing the party, it's just pressing its face against the window.
"And what's stopping the clients who have paid to be sponsors from being cheeky? Instead of enforcing the law, why don't they take on the ambush marketers outside the stadium. Nothing's stopping them from doing both.
"It creates a fertile ground for bright thinkers, both for those who can't afford a ticket to the big party, and those who can."
OLYMPIC BID ORGANISER - Sebastian Coe, chairman, the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games
"The essence of this legislation is crucial to a successful London 2012 Games and we should be under no illusion how far ambush marketers will go to try to associate themselves with the London Games without paying a penny to do so.
"Considering our Tier 1 sponsors will pay many tens of millions of pounds to become official sponsors, you can understand why they want appropriate protection from ambush marketing.
"We have a target of £700 million to raise from sponsors but if companies don't feel confident that their official association can be protected, there is a real chance we will fall short in revenues."