'Ambush Marketing' Outlawed at London Olympics

22/12/2011 10:32 GMT | Updated 20/02/2012 10:12 GMT

If you are not an official sponsor and are thinking of piggy backing next year's London Olympic Games with a timely promotion, you need to read the rules very carefully to avoid the risk of a heavy fine or even jail.

The most comprehensive and exacting regulations on advertising and marketing ever introduced for an Olympics games have come into force in England, under the London Olympic and Paralympic Games Act 2006, putting in place strict rules to combat 'ambush marketing' campaigns and other ways of exploiting the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics brands.

'Ambush marketing' is where a company or an individual gives the impression that the product or service they are selling are in some way associated with the Olympics without having an official sponsorship agreement. Any mention of Olympics or London 2012 in a context which is deemed to take advantage of the games, without written approval, will be deemed as illegal.

Already, according to media reports, between 50 and 100 cases, many in video, print and online, are being examined at any one time by the London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (LOCOG).

The act marks a departure from previous Olympic legislation by placing greater onus on individuals to prove their innocence if accused of violating the rules on their company's behalf. Any company or individual attempting 'ambush marketing' stunts face fines of £20,000 or even jail.

The legislation even outlaws "advertising on the human body" as part of the crackdown on guerrilla marketing. In Athens in 2004, a man dressed in a tutu invaded the diving pool with the name of an internet company painted on his bare chest. The stiff punishment was described by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport as "right and proportionate."

In addition, the Advertising and Street Trading Regulations for London 2012, aim to define zones of controlled advertising around Olympic venues throughout the UK to protect the official Olympic sponsors and advertisers who have paid close to £700 million, approximately a third of the games' budget, from having their investment damaged by unofficial 'ambush advertising'. London's iconic structures and monuments, such as the Palace of Westminster and Westminster Abbey, are also deemed vulnerable to ambush marketing and have been included in the controlled advertising zone.

The Regulations state what advertising will be regulated, this includes poster advertising and and imaginative forms of advertising, (such as give-aways and aerial advertising), and will include trading on private land, all within 200m of Olympic venues and for a certain period .

Earlier this year, LOCOG auctioned off more than 4,000 packages of prime advertising space, such as poster sites throughout London and other cities hosting Olympic events in the UK. Although it was described as an open auction, top tier partners of the IOC and LOCOG had first rights for two weeks, followed by other companies that already have paid for sponsorship deals.

Companies are being urged to introduce 'anti-ambush marketing' policies before next year's games to avoid staff being held liable for infringing Olympic legislation. Board directors wishing to avoid personal liability for infringements by over-enthusiastic marketers and agencies will have to implement written policies to help to show they have taken all reasonable steps to avoid a breach.

So, before you embark on any Olympic promotions, read the small print carefully - the sponsorship police are watching closely.