Practical Advice on Planning a 2014 Winter Olympics Promotion
Update: See our updated guidelines for the Tokyo Summer Olympics.
The next Winter Olympic Games are set to take place in Sochi, Russia in February, 2014. The U.S. Olympic Committee, in tandem with the International Olympic Committee has been lining up sponsors of the games. If you are using the Olympics to promote your brand, or if you are just curious about how to grab some attention for your brand, here is some advice on how to proceed.
First – If you use any Olympic Games Intellectual Property you must work within their guidelines.
This is black and white, cut and dried, open and shut.
Понять (understand)? Да (yes)? Большой (great)!
In the United States, the “USOC” and the “IOC” are the only organizations legally able to license the use of the Olympic indicia, trademarks and slogans and other intellectual property.
At Marden-Kane we offer clients the opinion that if you take a chance and find yourself in a legal battle with the USOC you will lose! The U.S. Olympic Committee is a Federal Government Chartered Corporation. It is as fearsome as it sounds and has the teeth to protect its property.
- An act of the U.S. Congress gives the USOC the exclusive rights to any symbol consisting of five interlocking rings as well as other “Olympic” mark rights. There are no unauthorized uses “for the purpose of trade, to induce the sale of any goods or services, or to promote any theatrical exhibition, athletic performance, or competition.”
- Unlike other infringement claims, a claim of likelihood of confusion is not necessary for the USOC to prevail in a legal action. There can be no “they said” claims of defense or attempt to shield yourself from third party counsel that was inaccurate.
- The Trademark Counterfeiting Act of 1984 includes special provisions for counterfeit uses of the Olympic trademarks. These provisions include criminal penalties and statutory liability for the individual or individuals found to be the originator of the violation. You can end up behind bars while your company pays other financial penalties. Let’s put it this way, you won’t be popular with your family or your coworkers.
And the USOC will find you. Some violations take longer to find than others such as this case with a way too close name for Olympic comfort small business. It also makes the point that no company is too large or too small to be cited. To enforce the marks, the USOC, solicits help with affiliated local host committees and the IOC. Hundreds of cases exist where cease and desist orders have been sent to immediately halt any unauthorized use. Many of these have been accompanied by lawsuits where infringement of Olympic symbols has occurred.
Second – Seriously evaluate if the expense of sponsorship is going to be worth it.
Joseph Thompson who writes for the Harvard Business Review blog has thoughtful suggestions on how to use an Olympic sponsorship strategically. He even suggests that one Olympic “strategy” is to let your competition spend aggressively while you lie in wait. The period immediately following the Olympics quiets down in terms of promotional spending. When the noise dies down you can command attention more easily and with a more modest budget.
If you are not a big brand you may be somewhere in the middle. If you can’t afford or can’t rationalize a full up sponsorship but also can’t resist the draw the games may provide for your brand we can help. During the period there may ways to borrow interest without using the Olympic marks and without taking any legal risk. The reason is simple. The Olympics are so visible they can’t help but spin off peripheral opportunities. These involve people, places, and things are in the public domain that will still cause your consumers to “get it.” If you are interested in discussing some of these approaches please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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