Despite stepped up rules by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to protect official sponsorships for the 2012 games in London from “ambush marketing”, one product is being seen (if not heard) often by spectators and athletes alike. Beat headphones have been appearing on Olympians from a number of countries, provided free by entrepreneur Dr. Dre. This week, the committee ruled that the product placement did not breach sponsorship guidelines as athletes sporting the high-end audio devises were not endorsing them.
Still, sponsor rules are significantly stricter than ever for 2012 as the IOC looks to protect the investments of the 11 international companies that pay approximately $100 million each for four years of rights to sponsor the Olympics globally. Anything, from words such as “Olympian” and “Games” to visuals, including the Olympic rings and other official logos and symbols, are strictly prohibited with flagrant violations enforced. This includes broadcast advertising, billboards and signage within Olympic event zones and social media – from posts to conversations.
Limits have certainly been pushed in the past, including in 1984 in Los Angeles where Fujifilm’s official sponsorship was usurped by rival Kodak’s sponsoring the TV broadcasts of the U.S. track team. Today, Fuji would be afforded first right of refusal for on-air coverage. Similarly, in 1992 in Barcelona, with Adidas the official Olympic clothing sponsor, Nike underwrote Michael Jordan and the U.S. basketball team. During the medal ceremony, Jordan covered up the Adidas logo with the American flag. This would not fly today.
Thus, it would seem, Dr. Dre is just the latest in a long line of brilliant marketers with moxie who are unafraid to test the waters and toe the line. And, while the IOC is sure to continue to tighten the rules and eliminate loop holes, for now it appears that guerilla advertising approaches are more likely to meet with the thrill of victory than the agony of defeat.