Official Non-Sponsor of…that event

Official Olympic sponsorships are coveted by companies for the brand exposure and the prestige of being able to say, “Official Sponsor of the 2012 London Olympic Games.” The International Olympic Committee has very strict marketing standards to protect official sponsors, especially against non-sponsors. There are exclusivity clauses given to many brands that have paid millions of dollars to place the 5 color rings next to its logo. Heck, you can get stopped by the brand police if seen eating french fries not from our friends over at the yellow arches. Or you can be turned away from Olympic Park if seen wearing your Pepsi branded t-shirt.  If a brand is not an official sponsor, how can they get in on all the Olympics advertising gold? Ambush marketing.

In essence, ambush marketing is the act of selling your product by skirting marketing rules set by an event, in this case the OIC and the London Olympic Games Organizing Committee. Many athletes have been seeing wearing those over-sized Dr. Dre Beats headphones. That has caused a stir since Beats is not an official sponsor of the games. Dr. Dre sent the British Olympic delegation Beat headphones emblazoned with the Union Jack instead of the Beats logo. Lawyers have yet to act on this ambush.

Another example is Nike’s Find Greatness campaign. One ad features athletes from around the world in cities named London, not in England. The narrator states that “greatness should not be reserved for a chosen few” with a stream average people playing sports in cities around world named London. It does not, however, refer to the Olympics in any way, even thought it is inferred.

The Paddy Power billboard at London Bridge Station. Photograph: Tim Anderson

British bookmaker Paddy Power was ordered to take down their billboards proclaiming them to be an “official sponsor of the largest athletics event in London this year!….ahem London, France that is.”

Is this fair to official sponsors that paid hundreds of millions dollars or just a clever way to advertise? The Nike ad has over 3 million hits on YouTube and Paddy Power is getting more attention due to this tactic then they would otherwise get.

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3 Responses to Official Non-Sponsor of…that event

  1. Aaron Fowles says:


    Nice post about ambush marketing. While I work for a company that is an official Olympic sponsor, I can tell you that still being a sponsor has its extreme challenges, since you have to have each and every communication approved by IOC and your local Olympic Committee, like the USOC. While you are allowed to use the Olympic rings, you have to be cautious about how you use other parts, especially athletes.

    Along those lines, I wanted to point out that ambush marketing is not only a tactic of non-sponsors, there are companies that are official sponsors that still skirt around what is “approved” and what isn’t. A good example of this is using specific athletes that will be participating in the Olympics in commercials without specifically saying their name (it is mostly something IOC doesn’t approve of doing). I have wondered why the rules are so strict, but at the same time, I understand the desire of making the competition about the actual preparation and training done by the athletes and not just a huge commercial event (although that’s what it really becomes).

    Clearly ambush marketing has a place, but I also wonder why brands put themselves at risk of causing some type of damage to their reputation (if they are using these tactics for commercial gain, doesn’t that make them a part of all that is wrong with capitalism, using the ends to justify the means?).

    Thanks for the post!


  2. kristinq says:

    Excellent post! I have never understood why companies pay so much to advertise in these big events. I have never been influenced by an ad during one of these events that compelled me to run out and buy something. I think the whole Olympic sponsorship and forcing people to only use those products is a bit much. It sounds more like Wall Street Capitalism and less like a sporting competition.

    I read an article on that said sponsors don’t make money during the Olympics they do it primarily for brand recognition. It also mentioned that the ROI on this is a highly guarded secret so I guess we can’t know for sure. What’s interesting is in your article you mention the ambush marketers probably got more attention than the actual sponsors. Perhaps the Olympic Sponsored companies have the wrong people in charge of their advertising.


  3. Cathryn Lottier says:


    Great post on ambush marketing! I agree with Kristina’s post in that I also never feel persuaded to buy something just because it’s an official sponsor of whatever major event. In fact, I give more credit to the brands that use their advertising dollars wisely and skirt around it. Those advertisements tend to be far more clever and interesting than the usual suspects that sponsor everything (ahem Coca Cola).

    I find it interesting that you mentioned Nike as not one of the Olympic sponsors. I feel like I have seen Nike all over the American athletes (primarily on the feet in neon of our women’s gymnastics team). While they may not have official commercials during the events, I feel that Nike’s presence in London is definitely known. Maybe another sneak attack courtesy of Nike?

    Excellent post!