London 2012 and marketing – don’t “medal” with the Olympic brand

27 Apr 2012
Alasdair Taylor

Given the profile of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, there will be a real temptation for businesses of all types to attempt to associate themselves with such a huge event. But beware – all that glitters may not be gold for businesses falling foul of any of the myriad of legislation surrounding the Games.

One of the conditions attached to London being awarded the right to hold the Games in 2012 was that the organizers had to deliver a “clean games”. What this means in this context is that LOCOG (the London Organizing Committee) must be able to prevent any unauthorized use of any Olympic-connected branding. This to protect the huge investments which are made by official sponsors and partners in return for exclusive rights to be associated with the Games.

Whilst primarily aimed at what is termed intentional “ambush marketing” (being an attempt by a business to attach itself to major sporting and other high profile events without paying sponsorship fees to the organisers), businesses need to be aware that they may nevertheless be caught by inadvertent usage of Olympic branding, even where innocently done in good faith.

For example, whilst it may appear obvious that the famous Olympic Rings and the Paralymic symbol are protected and should not be used without permission, it is less obvious perhaps that words such as “Olympic”, “Olypmiad” or “Olympian” are also covered.
In addition, LOCOG has the right to take action against anyone who infringes the so-called “London Olympics Association Right”. This right gives LOCOG the exclusive authority to grant its sponsors and licensees permission to create an association between their business, goods or services and London 2012.

So if any business falsely suggests an association (ie – some kind of commercial or contractual relationship) between their goods or services and London 2012 in their advertising or on their packaging or goods, then LOCOG will have the right to take legal action against it (which could include an injunction, damages, account of profits and destruction of goods).

Whether or not an association HAS been created is highly fact dependent and will depends on the overall impression given by the advert, marketing communication or product in question,  there are certain words or phrases that appear to create a presumption that an association has been created. These words include “Games”, “2012”, “London”, “medals”, “summer”, “gold”, “silver” and “bronze”. So for example, “Supporting the London Games” would be likely to fall foul of the law if used without LOCOG’s consent. Remember however that the Association Right can be infringed even without the use of these words – it all depends on whether the impression of an association has been created.

Businesses will have the benefit of some defenses – for example, journalistic uses or statements of fact (provided made in accordance with honest commercial practices and not made gratuitously for purely marketing purposes). But these would appear to have limited applicability.

There are also more specific rules applying to businesses in Games zones (ie – areas around venues), use of athletes’ endorsements, suppliers of goods/services to LOCOG, and those wishing to host conferences and seminars about the Games.

In summary, businesses are advised as a general rule of thumb not to use the Games as a marketing tool unless it is in fact an official sponsor. Whilst the Games are for everyone, that doesn’t mean every business! So if you are worried about some promotional activity or marketing campaign that you may have planned this summer with an Olympic theme, you would be well advised to read LOCOG’s guidance here (… ). If you have any specific concerns, then please do get in touch.


Nothing in this post – including without limitation the use of the words “Olympic”, “London” and “hubris” – should be understood as creating an association between SEQ Legal and the, ahem, games.

Seriously, great post Piers.  It leaves me wondering whether you think the special Olympic laws are justified?

At first glance they appear pretty onerous – can the use of the word “gold” by say, a high street trader really jeopardise Lloyds TSB’s sponsorship investment in London 2012. Clearly the common sense answer must be “no”.

The problem is that some businesses are going to be so innovative in creating these links and associations that the laws I think have to pretty broad to cope. Rather than being prescriptive and formulaic with the law (which businesses, on the advice of their clever lawyers (!) can then easily work around) – the laws instead have to be more purposive in approach in order to be able to stop these activities –  “you’ll know when it when you see it”.

So I think we will only be able to assess this after the event – so long as LOCOG use these powers in a proportionate and sensible way then I think we can probably say they were justified.

This assumes that the sponsors’ investments should have special protection, above and beyond the protection afforded to ordinary business ventures through trade marks, passing off, etc.

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