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Running Rings Round The 'Lympics

Can five bagels hanging in a cake shop window seriously threaten the five billion dollar corporate enterprise known as the Olympic Games? Apparently they can.

  • Rowan Dean is associate editor of the Spectator Australia and a regular columnist for the Australian Financial Review. He has appeared as a regular guest on ABC's hot show, The Gruen Transfer.
Indeed, so worried about such subversive and parasitical “ambush marketing” tactics were the organisers of the London Olympics that when “enforcement officers” descended on dozens of local businesses and individuals in the lead up to the Games they did so armed with a powerful new law the British Parliament had enacted in 2006 – as part of their deal in securing the 2012 Olympics - that made such activities more than just an infringement on copyright; they made them a criminal act.

So draconian has the enforcement of this legislation become, that tales abound of grandmas being prohibited from selling cupcakes and small businesses being ordered to remove floral displays, rings of sausages and other such tokenistic nods to the financial bonanza occurring throughout some – but not all – of the streets of London, for fear they might make an unofficial quid or two out of them.

Of course it is understandable that when mega-corporations (such as our own QANTAS prior to the Sydney Games) try to piggyback off the event without coughing up any sponsorship dosh, the IOC should get a bit miffed. But it is a far cry from that to the Orwellian steps taken to control every aspect of the marketing down to the last poppy-seed bagel.

Michael Payne, a leading brand expert who helped set up the stringent rules in the 1980s, admits that this time: “the controls and protections have gone too far when it is starting to suffocate local street traders.”
Which is of course the whole point of the Games. Throughout history, a chief purpose of such crowd-drawing events, from the spectacles of the Coliseum to the religious festivals and public executions of medieval Europe, was to provide a spur to local traders. Yet now the hangman’s noose metaphorically awaits the local entrepreneur; so beholden have the Olympics become to their multi-million dollar sponsors.

I am pleased to note that creativity and innovation have won the day – as they always will – with canny shopkeepers now reverting to five square-shaped objects in their windows or simply calling the event 'the ‘Lympics'.
But the morality of the organisers appears dubious. Yes, the sponsors have bought their rights to the use of the recognizable symbols to be exploited in the mass-media. But it is the humble taxpayer who has coughed up for to build the stadiums, railways, new roads and other infrastructure upon which the entire circus depends.

Ironically, Danny Boyle’s lavish opening ceremony deliberately paid homage to the entrepreneurialism of the Industrial Revolution and the innovations of individual British enterprises. Sebastian Coe in his own speech to open the games specifically praised those “humans stretched to the limit of their abilities inspired by what they can achieve driven to work harder than they could believe possible.” Needless to say, he didn’t mention of LOCOG’s “enforcement officers” clamping down on that very same spirit. The Sex Pistols –also recognized in the ceremony – made their fame and fortune by “ambush marketing” the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977 with their own irreverent version of ‘God save The Queen.’

Any and every taxpayer should have the right to profit from such an historic event using their own ingenuity and innovations. Without the risk of being strung up from the nearest lamp-post by LOCOG or anyone else.

See also: Rowan Dean on how to fix your marketing
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