by Darcy Cosper


In addition to the media histrionics that traditionally accompany the Olympics, this year there's a new brand of hysteria on the air and in print. The fuss is about what is known in the advertising industry as ambush marketing; in this case, the unapproved (which is to say, not paid for) use of Olympic logos, phrases, and Olympic-related images and themes.

The pleasures of this spectacle are manifold; in addition to the onslaught of mawkish ads from official Olympic peddlers, we are treated to more of the same from rogue companies catching an illicit ride on the Olympic marketing wave. But the really great fun is to be had watching the corporate yahoos as they attempt to defend their turf by posturing as martyred heroes and presenting basic infringement of copyright law as the moral equivalent of a Faustian pact, an affront to all that is good, true, and American.

It seems that the media-savvy public has a hard time distinguishing between official sponsors and ersatz upstarts who simply imply a connection to the Games via Olympic-esque advertising. In a 1994 survey, 57 percent of the respondents identified ambush marketer Wendy's as the restaurant sponsor of the Winter Games; the correct answer was McDonald's, named by only 37 percent of the respondents. So, this year, to protect the corporate tie-ins that bind, Olympic organizers are gearing up for a campaign intended to embarrass offenders into submission.

Ambush marketers discovered by the Olympic police will first be subjected to gentle threats from a battalion of lawyers. If the rascals don't respond, their campaigns will be featured in Olympic counter-advertisements, which will run in major national newspapers, bearing headlines like "Stop, Thief," and "How Do You Feel About Cheating in the Olympic Games?"

But this quadrennium's ambushes are more ironic than sincere: Reebok's football player spokesman claims he wants to make football an official Olympic event; Uber-athletic company Nike's snotty ads assert that "We don't sell dreams, we sell shoes." The Olympic organizers don't seem to be amused.

The irony that the advertising industry is harping about integrity is difficult to overlook, but we're supposed to ignore that, and get outraged about the fact that "Every Time A Company Runs An Ad Like This, Our U.S. Olympic Team Loses." It's the athletes they're worried about, of course, and the wholesome family values that the Olympics stand for. Apparently, "Deceptive Advertising Is Not an Olympic Event," but the race for faster, higher, stronger returns on official sponsor investments is. Let the games begin.   </end>


Also: Gimme the Goods: Buying a Piece of the Olympic Dream

DARCY COSPER is a freelance writer and researcher. She lives in Manhattan.
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