London Olympics Wield Strict Ad Rules to Protect Sponsors

Combine the Word 'Games' With 'Summer,' Get Fined 20,000 Pounds

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London organizers and the International Olympic Committee are policing everything from dogs to body paint in an effort to protect their 53 sponsors and Olympic partners from unauthorized advertising.

Katy B and Mark Ronson recorded Coca-Cola's song for the 2012 Olympics.
Katy B and Mark Ronson recorded Coca-Cola's song for the 2012 Olympics.

Ad agencies say the move is to enforce the strictest rules they've seen for any event. London 2012 has raised about 1.4 billion pounds ($2.2 billion) from sponsors including Coca-Cola's and McDonald's. Businesses that didn't pay as much as 100 million pounds required for a top-tier sponsorship, according to consulting firm Deloitte, are having a hard time finding ways to associate themselves with the Olympics without provoking officials.

Merely combining the words "games" or "2012" with other words, including "London," "summer" or "sponsors," would breach the rules, which carry fines of up to 20,000 pounds.

Nonsponsors also can't refer to athletic images, mottos and logos, including the Olympic rings and mascots, said Adam Glass, a partner at U.K. law firm Davenport Lyons, who advises retailers on advertising around the Olympics.

"It's quite draconian," Mr. Glass said. "Someone running with the flame of the torch could fall on the wrong side of the law," because it suggests a link with the Olympics, he said.

Some companies are finding smart ways to get around the rules. Virgin Media, which competes with sponsor BT Group, said April 25 that its recent campaign with Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt -- who became a worldwide figure during the last summer Olympics -- helped it gain the most customers in two years.

Marketing spending soared 49% to support the ads, in which Mr. Bolt appears with Virgin founder Richard Branson sporting a goatee similar to Branson's. Mr. Bolt, the Olympic 100-meter champion and world record holder, also bolstered sales at Puma, which competes with official sponsor Adidas and makes 100-euro Usain Bolt running shoes.

Others are responding by building generic summer campaigns around Queen Elizabeth II's Diamond Jubilee in June. More than 300 retailers from London's West End shopping district met this week to get advice from lawyers on advertising and promotions they can offer.

Marks & Spencer Group's TV ad campaign "On your Marks for a summer to remember" features famous models, including Twiggy, enjoying an outdoor picnic. The U.K.'s largest clothing retailer is offering "patriotic homeware," such as a Union Jack -printed cushion, a two-tier cake stand and a red-and-blue beach towel with a British crown print.

-- Bloomberg News --

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