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London 2012

London Olympics’ brand exclusion zone rankles some

Stephen Beard Jul 27, 2012
London 2012

London Olympics’ brand exclusion zone rankles some

Stephen Beard Jul 27, 2012

Tess Vigeland: They’re finally here. The Olympics are officially under way in London. When the U.K. bid to host the Games it promised that London would be a “clean city.” But this is not about sweeping the sidewalk and removing graffiti and garbage.
In Olympic-speak “clean” means uncluttered by advertising — at least from companies that aren’t sponsoring the Olympics. So within a 1 kilometer radius of the Olympic Park only official sponsors allowed. And woe be to any company that tries to muscle in on the Olympic brand.

Our Stephen Beard has the story from London.

Stephen Beard: Helicopter gunships, missile batteries, even a warship in the Thames. The Brits are throwing everything into protecting the Games. And lawyer Paul Jordan says they’re also also vigorously defending the Olympic brand.

Paul Jordan: They will have eyes and ears on the ground around the Olympic Park, which will bolster the 300 or so trading standard officers wandering around. So I think there will be quite an army on the lookout.

In the run up to the Games, officials came down hard against any non-sponsors daring to associate themselves with the Olympics. A butcher was threatened with a $30,000 fine. His crime: dangling five sausages –- like Olympic rings –- in his shop window. And florist Lisa Cross was also threatened for her Olympic flower arrangement, complete with cardboard torch.

Lisa Cross: Everybody said, ‘What a wonderful display!’ At the end of the day we’re only supporting Team GB, so what are doing wrong? I can’t see what I’ve done wrong.

The crackdown has infuriated staff at the Spectator Magazine. They feel that the Olympic authorities have been ludicrously heavy-handed.

Freddy Gray: I think they’re absurd. They’re ruining their own brand by excessively protecting it.

Assistant editor Freddy Gray says the Olympic officials are even outstripping totalitarian regimes.

Gray: Che Guevara’s image was never protected by the Cuban authorities in the way that the Olympics protect the Olympic rings, for instance.

Olympic brand infringement is a criminal offense. And non-sponsors are forbidden by law to advertise anywhere near Olympic facilities. You could argue that a non-sponsoring company is partly to blame. At the Atlanta Games in 1996, the U.S. sportswear giant Nike grabbed a golden opportunity and staged the classic marketing ambush.

Mark James is a law lecturer at Salford University.

Mark James: Nike effectively bought up all of the advertising space in and around the center, so they were able to get massive media coverage despite not being the official sponsors of that particular Games.

Which might explain the authorities’ zeal to prevent big non-sponsors from stealing the Olympic limelight. But Helen Day is wondering why the Olympic authorities have been bothering her. She runs a small entertainment agency with a troupe of acrobats on her books.

Helen Day: It’s all right. No, keep going, keep going. It’s all right.

Here they are practicing on the trapeze under Helen’s watchful eye. When she published a photograph of the girls draped inside five aerial rings, the Olympic authorities swung into action and banned the picture.

Helen Day: I think they’ve created a real sense of negativity amongst small business owners about the Olympics, which is a real shame because it should be something we’re celebrating, something we’re getting behind. And after all, it is something our taxes have paid for.

Thwarting the Olympic authorities and their sponsors could even become a national sport. A leading British wine merchant is offering steep discounts to customers who can prove they’ve bought products from non-sponsors.

In London, I’m Stephen Beard for Marketplace.

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