Official Olympic sponsor takes legal action against Qantas

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SYDNEY--Australian airline Ansett, an official Olympic sponsor, has launched legal action in the Federal Court to stop rival flag carrier Qantas from associating itself with the Olympic Games.

Lawyers for Ansett are claiming that Qantas has breached laws designed to protect sponsors from ambush marketing. It said Qantas ran two print ads in The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age in Melbourne on Aug. 29 and Aug. 30, giving readers the false impression that Qantas was a Games sponsor.

One ad published in a souvenir team guide features a photograph of Cathy Freeman with a reference to the Olympic Games and the Qantas logo printed across the bottom, according to Steven Finch, one of Ansett's legal representatives.

Ansett claims the "close proximity" of the Qantas logo to the word Olympic breaches the Sydney 2000 Games Indicia & Images Act specially introduced to protect Olympic sponsors from ambush marketing. Qantas has also contravened the Trade Practices Act by misleading the public to believe it was an official Olympic sponsor, claims Ansett.

A disclaimer published on page two of the newspapers, stating Qantas was not an Olympic sponsor, was "hardly sufficient" to remove the impression from the minds of readers, says Mr. Finch.

"Were Qantas allowed to continue advertising in this form during this critical period, it would drastically and immeasurably erode the long term brand equity built up by Ansett's significant investment as an Olympic sponsor," he says.

Mr. Finch adds that the potential loss of "goodwill'' and market share cannot be compensated by money. "The Australian market for air travel has entered a faze never before experienced ... the ability to differentiate a brand is critical ... Qantas has chosen the use of the Olympic Games indicia to differentiate itself.''

Ansett Project Manager Michael Rolnick says the aim of the court action was to clarify the rules and legislation protecting Olympic sponsors. "We are acting as any sponsor would protecting our rights," he says.

However, Qantas Deputy CEO Geoff Dixon has defended the airline's "right to promote itself," arguing that the airline has enjoyed a long association with sports and Olympic athletes in Australia. "We had this marketing strategy before Australia was even given the Olympics," says Mr. Dixon.

He adds: "Qantas had a very consistent strategy to associate ourselves with Australians through sport and that has included using Olympic sports champions in these ads. Just because SOCOG and the IOC feel we should change our strategy doesn't mean we are going to."

Qantas has already bought a $7 million Olympic advertising package from the Seven Network and intends to run its ads during the broadcaster's telecast. A new blockbuster commercial using the I Still Call Australia Home theme song would be used during the Games, says Mr. Dixon. "We don't even mention the Olympics in the commercials".

Copyright September 2000, Crain Communications Inc.

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