29 March 2012 by Becky Reid,

Example of Ambush Marketing: Bavaria Brewery's branded Lederhosen at the 2006 FIFA World Cup

We've all heard about the London 2012 Olympic Games but have you heard of The London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games (Advertising and Trading) (England) Regulations 2011 and/or their Scottish and Welsh equivalents? If you’re at all involved with marketing then you should have.

These regulations are there to stop anyone not officially sponsoring the Games from making too close an association with them. It’s called Ambush Marketing and isn’t welcomed.

To quote the Chartered Institute of Marketing:

‘Ambush marketing is when a company that hasn’t paid to be a sponsor of an event, gets free publicity by unofficially communicating their brand in places where spectators, cameras or reporters will see them. …it is when a company seeks to create an association between their brand and a sporting event, in order to create positive publicity for their own products or services.’

I could go into more detail but it gets complicated. In simple terms, if you are not sponsoring the Games, or other upcoming sporting events in the UK like the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games and the 2015 World Rugby Cup, then you shouldn’t make customers think you are.

To give you an example, the Dutch brewing company, Bavaria, gave orange Bavaria branded lederhosen to Dutch fans at the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany (orange being the colour associated with the Netherlands). The trousers were deemed to be an ambush (as Budweiser were the official sponsors) and the fans were forced to give up the offending items…leaving the match in their underwear in some cases!

So, before you go off and add rings, colours, words or anything vaguely related to the Olympics check this list of don’ts:


  • Don’t use the Olympic marks, including the London 2012 logo, rings or any other logo that could be confused with them
  • Don’t use images such as the Olympic torch, Olympic flame, athletic images or the colour combinations of the rings
  • Don’t use the Olympic and Paralympic mottos
  • Don’t use the words ‘Olympic’, ‘Olympiad’, ‘Olympian’, ‘Olympix’ or anything similar
  • Don’t use words and phrases to suggest you are associated with the Games
  • Don’t use two or more words from list A below with one or more words in list B

List A



Two Thousand and Twelve


List B








So, that means you can’t use phrases like ‘Come and join us to watch the London Games in 2012’. Sounds innocuous, doesn’t it? But it is illegal. Say you are a sun tan lotion company… using the phrase ‘Get bronze in 2012’ – that would not be allowed. Crazy, I know, but them’s the rules, as they say.

Oh, and beware if you are lucky enough to be located near one of the Olympic venues; these rules apply to street trading/activity during the Games in pre-designated ‘event zones’.

If you get caught doing any of the above then you could face a statutory fine of £20,000, court order and payment of compensation.


Now, I don’t want to be a kill joy and neither does the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (LOCOG) so there are some ways you can enjoy fringe benefits of the Games.

You can associate your company with sport, fitness and athleticism in general terms, phrases like ‘Helping Athletes Win’ are acceptable (but make sure they are also relevant to your products/brand/service!).

Is there a local athlete you can sponsor and support? It doesn’t have to cost a lot; many athletes are in need of funds to help their training and budding careers. And think of the return PR you get from it, not to mention the feel-good factor for giving back to the community.

If you want to know more The Chartered Institute of Marketing has produced a couple of really useful short guides to the Olympics and ambush marketing in general:

  • The Event that Dare not Speak its Name – 2008
  • Ambush Marketing and the Law – 2011

Enjoy the Games this summer; just don’t try to use them for poor marketing practices.