London 2012 Olympic Games

Why is such attention being paid by the organizers of the London 2012 Games to the brand of footwear being worn by participants and to the drinks they will take? The answer lies in the fear of ambush marketing. This means that at the moment in London, the action on the roads, in the rings and on the courts is not the only competition. For every Olympics, and other major sporting events, ambush marketing, unfortunately, provides a sideshow. We refer to ambush marketing when an advertiser who is not an official sponsor of an event, tries to associate itself with the event without paying any sponsorship fees. Sport is big business which means that the fees of the official sponsors are a big part of the Olympic budget. How can sponsors be protected against this rather new phenomenon in the sports world? 

The previous Peace Palace Library Blog already gave us a brief introduction into the world’s biggest sporting event, the Olympic Games. This blog will continue to focus on the Games, but with a special attention to ‘the Olympic headache’: ambush marketing. I will start with the definition of ambush marketing and its different forms. Then I will provide an overview of today’s legislation that can protect the organizers and sport sponsors against ambush marketing, particularly in relation to the London Olympic Games. And finally, I will conclude with some examples of ambush marketing during the Games as well as ambush marketing during other major sporting events.


The word ‘ambush’ as used in the description ambush marketing, means ‘an attack from a hidden position’ and is derived from the old French verb ‘embuschier’ which translates to, ‘to place in a wood’. The term was first used by marketing strategist Jerry Welsh, while he was working at American Express in the 1980s. He holds the view that ambush marketing is typical of modern sponsorships and is directly related to the media attention given to sporting events, like the Olympics. As said in the introduction, sport is big business and big marketers want to associate themselves with the major sporting events at the moment. 

There are 3 forms of ambush marketing; direct, indirect and incidental ambush marketing. This blog mostly describes indirect ambush marketing which refers to the use of imagery or terminology not protected by intellectual property laws to create an illusion that an organization has links to a sporting event or property. This is different, from for example, the intentional unauthorized use of protected intellectual property. Such properties can include actual use of the logos of teams or events. This is an example of direct ambush marketing.

London Olympics

Because indirect ambush marketing is not directly protected by intellectual property laws it is difficult to protect the organizers and sport sponsors against those creative marketers. That is why in London, the London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Act (LOGPGA), was passed within months of London being awarded the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games on July 6, 2005. Besides the fact that LOGPGA is based on copyright, trademark and contract law, the Act also gives special rights to the London Organizing Committee of the Olympic Games (LOCOG) to prevent unauthorized associations with the Olympics. This is to make sure participants and visitors drink Coca-Cola and wear Adidas only.

Other sporting events

Bavaria girls World Cup 2010The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has expressed strong concern over ambush marketing. However, the Olympic Games are not the only event where confusion over sponsors and their creative rivals has occurred. For me, a notable event was, the Dutch girls wearing short orange dresses made by the Dutch beer company Bavaria during one of the 2010 World Cup matches  in South Africa. Budweiser was the official sponsor of the World Cup in South Africa and Bavaria was not allowed to create the illusion they had connections with the World Cup as well. Of course, they could not use the World Cup for free publicity.

Also in the Netherlands, the Dutch Olympic Committee (NOC*NSF), pays a lot of attention to the protection against forms of ambush marketing by creative Dutch marketers. For example, the NOC*NSF has strict rules for Dutch commercials when they use the Olympics, but those rules are not as strict as the rules in London this year.

It is clear that businesses have found imaginative ways of advertising their products during sporting events. During the London Games, it is important that the sponsors are protected against ambush marketing, because the sponsors pay a lot of money to fees and they form a big part of the Olympic budget. Therefore, in my opinion, the London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Act is indispensable. Of course we should not pay too much attention to drinking Coca-Cola and wearing Adidas only but most of all: enjoy the games!

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