THE IOC POLICE

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Behind the scenes in Norway these past two weeks, the International Olympic Committee's commercial police squads were busy keeping the winter games as pure as Lillehammer's snow. TV viewers thus saw the various venues blessedly bereft of commercial signage.

Of course, it's not for purity's sake that the IOC was protecting our view. It's for the sake of the marketers who paid to be an official sponsor of a team or the games. That's also why IOC types were hustling about taping over offending logos on the clothing and equipment of many participants.

At least one rascal escaped their clutches, however.

American Express Co. continued its wordplay counterpunching at Visa, an official Olympic sponsor, by running ads on CBS' coverage of the games noting that travelers can find AmEx service all over Norway and that when you go you'll need a passport, "but you don't need a visa."

IOC hoped to avoid such shenanigans by making Visa promise not to run ads specifically attacking AmEx. But that didn't stop American Express, nor did a stern rebuke from the IOC. So, Visa commercials returned to their familiar end-note: "...but they don't take American Express."

The long and bitter feud between American Express and Visa-often as not ending up in court as one tries to enjoin the other from making certain ad claims-is not likely to end any time soon. The same thing went on during the winter and summer Olympics in 1992, and we noted several times then that the IOC looks a little silly trying to keep American Express from defending its market share.

If the IOC is serious about avoiding what it calls "ambush marketing" in the future, we'd suggest it ask TV carriers of its games not to sell time to marketers employing the tactic.

But since TV seems to run the games, we doubt IOC could get away with telling a network who could buy their ad time.

Let the ad games continue.

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