Should marketers be held personally liable for ambush marketing? The Marketing Society Forum

Should marketers be held personally liable for ambush marketing? The Marketing Society Forum

A proposed amendment to the Olympics Act 2006 would leave senior marketers at risk of gaining a criminal conviction if ambush activity for their brand takes place around the London 2012 Games.


Marketers are here to build and protect brands; to this end, I can understand why big sporting events want to protect the integrity of their brand by associating with 'like' brands.

All very nice in theory and an MBA textbook, but in real terms, big events don't choose the 'best', 'interesting' and most 'applicable' brands, they choose the ones that provide the most cash.

On this basis, marketing directors are always going to be looking for interesting ways of creating noise where they can't afford or don't want to pay the inflated premiums of such events. Does this take away from the integrity of the occasion? Probably not. It adds humour in the best instances, the official brands still get their multi-zillion-dollar above-the-line exposure, and everyone's a winner as a result. Protecting brands? Yes, hold the poor browbeaten marketing director accountable. Strangling creativity and fun? Not for me, thanks.


No debate. Marketing directors have to be accountable for their agencies and the work they have commissioned. They simply cannot afford not to be transparent and authentic, especially with legislation passed to ensure that official London 2012 sponsors are fiercely protected, and those looking to cash in on it prosecuted.

Yes, it's a challenge in this real-time, digital world to define what has been sanctioned officially and what hasn't, hence definitions of 'indirect' and 'incidental' ambush marketing. That's why brand guidelines must be adhered to throughout all campaign activity.

It's much more than just individual brands - it's about accountability and responsibility, which, as marketers, we all have to our stakeholders. Furthermore, it's about our industry following best practice and governance in our approach, having respect for each other and recognising that, with the spotlight on London and the UK, more than ever, we have a duty to showcase the very best of our industry - not the worst.


If anyone is held accountable for effective ambush marketing, it should be the marketing directors of the sponsors themselves, which spend millions to get into bed with the biggest sports event on earth. They should use their creativity to improve the Olympic experience, not sterilise it. 'Brand protection units' will use masking tape to censor unsolicited T-shirts. Hotels will be forced to stock sponsor beverages. The O2 will be temporarily renamed 'North Greenwich Arena' to appease BT.

If sponsors can't get their money's worth without resorting to Orwellian tactics to suppress the competition, they are doing something horribly wrong. A guerilla tactic should be a drop in the ocean compared with an official Olympic sponsor's activities.

Sure, sponsorship deals won't carry such hefty price tags if organisers can't reassure lazy marketers that more creative competitors will be snuffed out; but if sponsors were forced to engage brain a little, they just might make it the greatest show on earth.


No, but only if marketing directors have ensured that there is a proper code of conduct in place and made everyone across marketing aware of their individual obligations.

In that case, it's down to the individual to do the right thing, or suffer the consequences if they choose not to. If there is no such framework in place, yes - the marketing director has to carry the can, as they must ultimately be held to account for ensuring acceptable working practices, protecting the brand and keeping the marketing department out of the courts.

In reality, I suspect the guilty party might sometimes get a public reprimand and a secret pay rise: 'Good work, Smithers.'

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