As security officers and military personnel were going through their final paces ahead of the opening ceremony on Saturday morning (Australian time), another Olympic security force was already hard at work on the streets of London. Around 250 “brand police” have been deployed to enforce strict rules against the threat of ambush marketing, ensuring no one but the small group of official sponsors can profit by associating themselves with the London 2012 Olympic Games.
Ambush marketing at the Olympics is no new concept. With unprecedented levels of media coverage, the event is a magnet for companies looking to capitalise on the biggest sporting event in the world without paying for rights. Nike, American Express, Qantas and Puma are just some of the brands famous for sabotaging the efforts of official sponsors at previous Games.
As content marketers, we know that content can motivate action. Like the marketing reps responsible for stunts like Linford Christie’s Puma contact lenses in 1996 and Qantas’s “Spirit of Australia” slogan in 2000, it’s our job to think about what it takes to get the attention of customers. But from there, ambush and content marketing strategies take very different paths.
Content marketing is the art of communicating with your customers and prospects without selling; it’s non-interruption marketing. Ambush marketing by its very name is designed to interrupt – to distract – with tactics that often include saturating the marketing space. And as the first truly digital Olympics, it’s predicted that London 2012 will be the target of more attempts than any other Games.
Despite stricter regulations (that include criminal offences and fines of up to £20,000), social media offers unprecedented opportunities for ambush tactics to go viral. So, which brands are the most likely to try it in 2012?
Nike is arguably the most voracious and successful ambusher in Olympic history. The company already sponsors the US Olympic team, which means every US athlete in London will be wearing the Nike tick around the village and during medal ceremonies.
It’s also launched a campaign (a mere two days before the opening ceremony) called “Find Your Greatness”, with a YouTube video featuring amateur athletes in London, Nigeria; London, Ontario; Little London, Jamaica and so on, in an apparent attempt to dampen the hype surrounding the athletic achievements at London 2012.
“The other way of putting it is that greatness doesn’t just happen in the stadiums of London,” said Nike spokesman Charlie Brooks. “We’re saying that greatness can be anywhere for anyone and you can achieve it on your own terms.”
And so with Nike seemingly playing by the rules, it seems only a selection of small, local businesses have fallen foul of the new regulations so far, with a Weymouth butcher told to remove a sign showing the Olympic rings made from sausages, and a London café called Olympic asked to paint over the letter O in order to avoid a fine.
What happens come Saturday is anyone’s guess… and we’ll be announcing our gold, silver and bronze medal winners for ambush marketing after the closing ceremony. Stay tuned!
By Edwina Lawry – Senior Content Strategist