Tough sponsorship rules banning use of the ‘O’-word under fire as individuals and firms are warned off, reports Claire Smith
ORGANISERS of the Hopetoun House Horse Trials thought they were on to a winner when they realised this year’s event on 28 and 29 July corresponded with the Olympic opening weekend.
A live link-up with the London Games will ensure visitors can keep up with what is happening down south while enjoying live equestrian and rural events in the heart of the Scottish countryside.
However, organisers have now been told they will not be allowed to mention the “O” word in their advertising – making them the latest to fall victims of the Olympic copyright police.
Camille Craig, Hopetoun’s marketing manager, said: “We have been extremely cautious when using the “O” word simply to avoid any risk of contravening guidelines. This has made communicating the event rather cumbersome; however, I think we have been successful and people genuinely seem to want be involved rather than watching it in their front rooms. It’s the mix of live action on the ground and on giant screens which will make the games memorable.”
Martin Hunt, of Tartan Silk public relations, said the heavy- handed approach was a PR disaster: “This is a complete piece of nonsense. This should be a time when the whole of the UK can get pull together and get behind the Olympics. This is taking things to ridiculous lengths.”
And the Hopetoun Horse Trials are not alone. Among those who have fallen foul of the Olympic copyright protection rules have been a bagel-maker, a florist who wanted to create an Olympic bouquet and a pensioner who knitted a 2012 doll for the church bazaar.
Even the Middleton family faced problems when its party planning business advertised a range of Olympic-themed goods.
PR guru Mark Borkowski is amazed it has taken this long for the backlash to begin. “People are waking up to the draconian sort of enforcement which is going to protect the brands involved. But nothing is going wrong with it. The fact of the matter is that if you put £30m into the Olympics you are going to have to get something back in return. You have to understand that the Olympics is a commercial exercise on a huge scale concealed under a mass of cliches. It is huge. You won’t have seen anything on this level before.”
According to a spokesman from LOCOG, the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games: “Without our sponsors the Games simply couldn’t happen. LOCOG had a target to raise between £650m and £700m from domestic sponsorship towards the staging of the Games.
The sponsorship programme began in 2007 and the appointment of Westfield in September 2011 took LOCOG beyond the £700m mark”.
And there is a long list of people LOCOG has to keep happy. LOCOG has seven Tier One Partners – Adidas, BMW, BP, British Airways, BT, EDF and Lloyds TSB. There are seven Tier Two Supporters – Adecco, ArcelorMittal, Cadbury, Cisco, Deloitte, Thomas Cook and UPS.
The worldwide Olympic partners are Coca-Cola, Acer, Atos, Dow, GE, McDonald’s, Omega, Panasonic, Procter and Gamble, Samsung and Visa.
There are also 28 official suppliers, including Eurostar, Heathrow Airport, Holiday Inn, Trebor and Ticketmaster.
Keeping the sponsors happy is one of the reasons the Olympic brand is so tightly protected. A LOCOG spokesman says: “The London 2012 brand is our most valuable asset and if we did not take steps to protect it from unauthorised use and ambush marketing, the exclusive rights which our partners have acquired would be undermined.”
However, the companies involved, far from basking in the glory of the Olympic movement, are experiencing a major backlash. Dow Chemicals has become the subject of an Amnesty International campaign to seek justice for the thousands of victims of the 1984 Bhopal Disaster and Adidas has come under fire from War on Want for paying the minimum wage of 34p an hour to workers in Indonesia.
There has also been “Chip- Gate” – the revelation that only McDonald’s was contractually allowed to serve chips with food inside the Olympic Park. And a major investigation by the British Medical Journal and Panorama cast doubt on the hydration claims made by sports drinks such as Powerade – the Coca-Cola product which is the official drink of the 2012 games.
The commercialism of the Games has also inspired its own protest movement – CON – the Counter Olympics Network, which is planning a series of protest actions including a relay with the Olympic Poverty Torch.
Shadow Olympics minister Tessa Jowell, who was heavily involved in the bidding process, said while sponsorship is now an unavoidable aspect of major sporting events the troubles being experienced by the Olympic sponsors show it is now time for a rethink.
She said: “The Olympics is owned by the International Olympic Committee, and sponsorship pays for approximately half the cost of staging the Games. When you bid for the Olympics, you have to go into the contest prepared to live by the rules of IOC, indeed you have to sign the host city contract the day before the winner is announced.
“But the approach to enforcing the rules should also be sensible and proportionate. The legislation and the regulations that underpin them were designed with this in mind.”
And she said more could have been done to bring sponsors in line with public expectations.