Will Olympic sausages from the butcher really harm Goliath sponsors?

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Last week Oliver Astley, a friend of mine and the Business Correspondent at Derby Evening Telegraph, asked me to give my opinion on the Olympic marketing debacle.
So I did.
And he kindly printed my garbled thoughts in his well read and respected Business Weekly supplement

And if you’re interested in reading my thoughts, here they are:

TRADERS offering flaming torch baguettes or Olympic sausages are unlikely to take market share from Samsung, Lloyds Bank or Proctor and Gamble.

But that has not stopped the organising committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games from getting its knickers in a twist.

Lord Coe, holding an Olympic torch, who has come under fire for saying that people wearing logos of non-Olympic sponsors might be turned away from the Games.

The London Olympics will cost an estimated £9.3 billion to host and raising money through sponsorship is obviously crucial.

And protecting the branding rights of the 53 official sponsors, who contribute an estimated £1 billion between them, is clearly a high priority for Locog.

But there is a growing feeling that the organisers have gone too far with their heavy-handed protection of the sponsors.

Lord Coe has come in for particular criticism, having said that people wearing logos of non-Olympic sponsors might be turned away.

Putting the legal aspects aside, this is an unwelcome own goal for sponsors as it is creating a wave of negative PR – which is, ironically, the exact opposite of what sponsorship is designed to achieve.

And this comes at an uncertain time for sponsorship in general.

Major brands are evaluating the effectiveness of such large deals.

In fact, in a recent survey by Brand Republic, many people reported that they had no idea who was sponsoring the Olympics.

And 16% of people surveyed thought Tesco was a sponsor. It is not.

Similarly, Canon, Carlsberg, Sky and Orange, none of whom have anything to do with the Games, were all named as sponsors by those surveyed.

But Locog’s policing of the Games is not just to give sponsors maximum value for their investment. It is to stave off the threat of ambush marketing.

This is a controversial tactic whereby a brand tries to make it appear that it is associated with an event for which it has purchased no rights, usually drawing attention away from the official sponsor.

And to be fair to Lord Coe and Locog, ambush marketing is a genuine concern as there have been numerous examples of this tactic at major sporting events.

These include a construction of a heavily-branded Nike village next to the athletes’ village at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, at which Reebok was the official footwear sponsor.

And who could forget the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, when the Bavaria brewing company outfitted 30 Dutch women in mini-dresses in its trademark orange for the Netherlands’ opening game against Denmark – much to the annoyance of official beer sponsor Budweiser?

What makes this even more frustrating for sponsors is the David and Goliath effect.

This is because, if the brand doing the ambushing is significantly smaller than the official sponsor, as it often is, the public tend to side with the little guy.

Particularly if the big guy stops the little guy giving away freebies. After all, we all like getting free stuff.

People involved in ambush marketing think it’s clever and often funny but, for me, it’s nothing more than theft that damages the value of sponsorship.

And ultimately, if the sponsors do not get the return-on-investment they need, they will simply stop investing their marketing money, which could be disastrous for many sporting events.

It will be interesting to see what unofficial sponsors hungry for Olympic publicity will come up with – but let’s hope common sense prevails and Usain Bolt is not turned away for wearing trainers made by Puma.