Olympic Ambush-Marketing Law Could Curb Free Speech

12 August 2005

Britain's Blair administration, still in triumphal mode over London's gain of the 2012 Olympic Games, plans to impose draconian restrictions on all unauthorized games-associated marketing activity [WAMN: 11-Jul-05].

According to Nick Johnson of specialist marketing law firm Osborne Clarke, if this IOC-inspired legislation is shoehorned through parliament it "would substantially curtail advertisers' freedom of speech".

The bill in question is scheduled to go before a House of Commons committee in October. Its objective is to protect the status of the Olympics and the interests of official sponsors by barring other advertisers from exploiting the Games.

Johnson fears that those unable to afford entry to the magic 'five rings' Olympic circle - at prices upward of $65 million (€53m; £36m) affordable only by the likes of Coca-Cola, Visa, McDonald's and General Electric - will be frozen out of participation in the games bonanza.

His view is shared by the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising, representing UK ad agencies. As IPA legal director Marina Palomba puts it: "The games have been depicted as being of benefit for the whole of the UK, particularly Londoners.

"Regarding all the small businesses who could never hope to be official sponsors, we are concerned that an extension of the law to prevent any association of the games will be too strict."

Johnson warns that businesses will be risk if they use the words 'games' or '2012' in combination with any of these words: 'gold', 'silver', 'bronze', 'London', 'medals', 'sponsors' and 'summer'.

He argues: "The Government urgently needs to review the terms of the bill before it becomes law. Ultimately, these measures could have a serious impact on the UK's advertising industry in what should be its best ever trading year."

Data sourced from mad.co.uk; additional content by WARC staff