Geraint Lloyd-Taylor is an associate in the Media, Brands and Technology department of law firm Lewis Silkin
Geraint Lloyd-Taylor is an associate in the Media, Brands and Technology department of law firm Lewis Silkin
A view from Geraint Lloyd-Taylor

Think BR: The Olympics are coming... so sling yer 'ook

New regulations on advertising at the London 2012 Olympics will give police and enforcement officers new powers to deal with ambush marketing, writes Geraint Lloyd-Taylor, media law specialist at Lewis Silkin.

You’ve read countless articles on what the Olympics will mean for advertisers over the next couple of years. If your client is an official sponsor, you’re on easy street. But, if they’re not, you just know that you will have to walk over hot coals to get them a piece of the action. 

The streets of London will not be a welcoming place for you, and if you do not keep a low profile for a couple of months during summer 2012, the police may literally come knocking at your door.

Physical ambush marketing - whether it be buying up advertising space around venues or handing out free gifts, flags or clothes - is something which happens at all large sporting events, and something the organisers of the 2012 Olympics (and even the British police) are ready and waiting to pounce on. So if you’re planning on engaging in it, there are some things you should know.

For a good example of physical ambush marketing, you need cast your mind back no further than this year’s South African World Cup, and the antics of Bavaria.

You may remember that the creative Dutch brewer allegedly planted 36 orange-clad ladies into the crowd during a Netherlands v. Denmark game. Bavaria had gone to great lengths before the game to ensure that this particular orange miniskirt would be synonymous with its brand. And it was all going so well.

The fans took their seats for the game, and the ladies were soon enjoying the full glare of the media spotlight. But for those ladies the euphoria was short lived, as they were promptly and unceremoniously arrested and carted off by the South African police.

But surely that couldn’t happen in this country? Don't we live in a land of freedom, liberty and justice? 

Hold that thought… or rather, that thought will be on hold, roughly between Friday 13 July 2012 (unlucky for some advertisers) and Friday 14 September 2012, when (Olympic) rings of steel will come down around all 2012 venues and events which take place during those dates.

These ‘rings of steel’ will encompass the events themselves and areas around the relevant events which are considered to be ‘in their vicinity’. This includes the areas around the football being played in the Millennium Stadium (Cardiff), Hampden Park (Glasgow), Old Trafford (Manchester), and other stadia.

Rings of steel will also come down around streets and parks where events such as the Marathon, Road Cycling and Triathlon will take place. They will appear around various UK sites where big screens will be erected so that people can watch the action. They will appear around parts of the coast, and even out to sea (for the sailing in Weymouth and Portland). Even the airspace above these sites won’t escape.

It is intended that the inside of these rings will be an unbranded, advertising-free wasteland, except, or course, for promotions by the official sponsors. 

There will be some limited exceptions for activities which are not considered to conflict with the aims of the regulations, for example, normal shop signs advertising the name of the retailer or types of product being sold. However, even if you hold an existing advertising authorisation from the local planning authority, this will not necessarily mean that you can advertise within the rings of steel.

The proposed 2012 advertising regulations

There are already laws in the UK which regulate advertising in physical locations, but these were not seen by the organisers of the games as providing adequate protection.

For example, some types of unlawful advertising can only be removed after 21 days, or cannot be controlled easily, such as ads placed on moving vehicles or placards. This presented the organisers of the Olympics with an obvious practical problem.

But, accustomed to ‘thinking big’, the organisers of the 2012 Olympics are pushing for a (thankfully brief) new world order: The Advertising and Street Trading Regulations will be introduced to deal with all of these problems.

The new regulations will allow police constables and other ‘enforcement officers’ to immediately enter land or premises (inside the rings of steel) in order to stop unauthorised advertising taking place.

The officers will be able to seize items used as part of the ambush marketing activity in order to stop or prevent that activity, and to take property away to use as evidence. If it is any comfort, the power of entry should only be exercisable after the owner or occupier has been given a reasonable opportunity to remedy the situation him- or herself. 

On a day-to-day basis, it is hoped that people will simply be asked to move on or stop what they’re doing. However, those found guilty of engaging in ambush marketing activity could face prosecution and a fine. 

A strange thought: if you’re planning on standing at the side of the road, waving on the Marathon runners, wearing your favourite Nike t-shirt, Nike baseball cap and Nike trainers… beware. It won’t just be the fashion police who will want you to cover up - the Metropolitan Police might actually take an unhealthy interest in your clothes too; and either you or your apparel might not be standing there for very long.

The wording of the regulations, which will make this new world order come about, is yet to be finalised.

The Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) has kick-started the process by raising general awareness of the regulations and publishing an ‘Advance Notice’ (if you missed it, it’s available on the London 2012 website).

The Government’s formal consultation on the draft regulations is due to open some time this year, then the draft regulations will be applied to two test events in 2011. The full, detailed regulations may not be finalised until around six months before they are due to come into effect.

We will keep readers of Brand Republic posted.

Geraint Lloyd-Taylor is an associate in the Media, Brands and Technology department of law firm Lewis Silkin