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Who’s Sneaking into the London Games

A handful of clever marketers are ahead of official Olympic sponsors


By Toni Fitzgerald, Media Life Magazine,

Sometimes perception is better than reality, and so it is for the brands that have managed to associate themselves with the Olympic Games without paying the exorbitant rights fees that come with official sponsorship.

They’re commonly referred to as “ambush marketers”, and though the London Games are still nearly a year away, some ambush marketers are making more of an impression on Olympic fans than the official sponsors.

That’s according to the first ambush marketing rankings for the London 2012 Olympic Games, released by The Global Language Monitor (GLM), which measures the strength of the brand affiliation between each of the worldwide partners, official partners, and official sponsors and the London Games and then compares it to competing companies that are not officially affiliated with the Games

Sony, Subway, DuPont, Barclay Card and Lenovo are the top five companies with the highest unofficial London brand affiliation.

All have a stronger association with the Games than the official sponsors they compete against.

They’ve achieved this by incorporating Olympic imagery into their ads, such as athletes competing in the sports being contested in London.


Though some object to the term “ambush”, it’s clear that their intention is to gain the positive affiliation with the Games without paying the sponsorship fees, which cost in the nine-figure range for top-level sponsorship.

“Few things in top-tier consumer-facing companies occur ‘naturally’ or ‘spontaneously,’ especially when they are engineered to look that way,” says Paul JJ Payack, president of GLM.

“This is why advertisers adept at associating themselves with an event, even though they are not ‘official’ sponsors of that event, can often out-perform official sponsors.”

Subway, for instance, is roughly two times as likely as official Olympics sponsor McDonald’s to be associated with the Games.

That’s mainly because swimmer Michael Phelps, the most decorated Summer Olympian ever, appears in Subway ads.

“Subway is acknowledged as a leader in this regard [ambush marketing] with their close ties to Michael Phelps, who in many minds personifies the Olympic brand and spirit: clean-living, hard-work, pulling himself up by his own bootstraps,” says Payack.

Some sponsors are still reaping the benefits of past sponsorship. Lenovo, for example, ended its sponsorship deal after the 2008 Beijing Games, but the company is three times as likely as the computer vendor that took its place, Acer, to be associated with the Olympics.

The benefit to these ambush marketers is clear.

They get all of the positives of Olympic sponsorship – the feel-good vibes, the legitimacy, the eyeballs – at a much lower expense.

The International Olympic Committee is not happy about this, of course.

During last year’s Vancouver Games, it successfully lobbied the Canadian Parliament to pass a bill restricting the use of certain combinations of words and numbers in advertising, such as snow, winter and games, to prevent non-sponsors from piggybacking on the Games.

Still, clever advertisers always find a way around that.

Red Bull, which consistently ranks near the top of the ambush list, recently bought naming rights to the new velodrome in London that will house the indoor bicycle events, ensuring the brand name will be heard in broadcasts even if its ads will not.


More: Who really won in Vancouver: Ambushers