The International Olympic Committee this week will ink an agreement with the World Federation of the Sporting Goods Industries to implement a marketing code establishing guidelines for activities linked to the Olympic Games.
The agreement, to be signed Dec. 2 by IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch and federation President Stephen Rubin, was hammered out after months of talks between IOC marketing officials and executives at several prominent advertisers that use the Olympic Games as a marketing platform, including Adidas, Nike and Reebok International.
12 AGREEMENTS IN CODE
The code offers 12 agreements, the first being that marketers can't use Olympics marks in ads without permission of the IOC; another bars marketers from distributing "presence marketing material" to spectators. Advertisers also are asked to honor an Olympic Charter rule that forbids companies from using Olympic athletes in ads during the duration of the Games without IOC permission.
New guidelines are being drawn up for ads saluting athletes for winning medals.
SPORTING GOODS `CRITICAL'
This "is an acknowledgment from the IOC that the sporting goods industry is critical to [the] staging of the Olympic Games," said Liza O'Reilly, Reebok's director of sports marketing.
The catalyst for the code was Nike's conduct during the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. Nike riled the IOC and the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games with an ad campaign from Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore., that featured such taglines as "You don't win silver, you lose gold," which was criticized for being antithetical to the spirit of the Games.
Nike also was accused of giving spectators swoosh-branded "Just do it" signs to wave in the stands in full view of TV cameras; Olympics venues are supposed to be free of commercial messages.
The criticism Nike received for such activities tarred it as an ambush marketer. Sporting goods companies typically don't sponsor the event itself but its participants -- athletes and national teams. Their financial contributions are often substantial.
"When it comes to who is and who isn't an ambush marketer, the focus has been on whether companies are paying rights fees for usages. If they're not, they must be ambushers," said Michael Payne, the IOC's director of marketing.
The statement that will announce the signing of the agreement will read: "Although there have been allegations that certain constituents within the sporting goods industry have practiced ambush marketing, [the companies] provide important support ... to the athletes and teams attending the Olympic Games."
PROTECTING THE GAMES
Mr. Payne said the code benefits the IOC because it holds companies to ethical standards that, if followed, will protect the Games from commercialization and the industry's intense competition.
"It makes it easier -- and it makes it clearer -- for everyone to play by the same rules," said Thomas Harrington, senior VP-corporate communications at Adidas. "It's just like if you're competing in a sport. You all play by the same rules, but employ your talent to excel and beat your competitors."
However, Ms. O'Reilly added that while Reebok supports the code in concept, it does have problems with a few specific points. She declined to provide details, saying Reebok had yet to speak with the IOC about its concerns.
Also, the agreement is self-enforced; both Adidas and Reebok called the code "a gentlemen's agreement."
PRESERVING OLYMPIC IDEAL
One point of the code states that Olympic-theme ads should refrain from detracting from the Olympic ideal, but it remains to be seen how each company will comply.
"I can't imagine we'd send ads to the IOC for approval," Mr. Harrington said.
"The ideas in the code are generally consistent with how we operate normally," said Ms. O'Reilly, "but we're still going to do what is in the best interests of Reebok and market according to our strategies."
Copyright December 1997, Crain Communications Inc.