ONE DAY, THE small espresso shop near the site of the London Games was the “Olympic” cafe. The next day, it was the “Lympic.”
So where did the “O” go?
The manager won’t say. But it’s more than likely the small business became another casualty in the battle against guerrilla marketers — advertisers who try to associate their products with a prestigious event without paying to be sponsors.
Protecting the Olympic brand is always a big job, and never more so than this year. Olympic organisers say the increasing sophistication of guerrilla marketers and the rise of social media are putting the five rings under assault in ways barely envisioned a decade ago.
That means action against anyone who infringes the Olympic brand or sponsors’ deals — no matter how small.
“There’s no question that the rings are instantly recognizable — it’s what makes it attractive,” said Stephen Greyser, an emeritus professor at Harvard Business School.
He compared the efforts by non-sponsors to athletes trying to find loopholes in the rules against performance-enhancing drugs.
“It becomes an industry,” he said.
The International Olympic Committee and London organisers raised more than $2.4 billion from the sale of marketing rights in the four years through the 2008 games in Beijing, providing more than 44% of their funding during the period.
The rings are among the world’s most recognized symbols. Companies like McDonald’s, Coca-Cola and Samsung, which pay as much as $100 million each to be official sponsors during each Olympic cycle, expect organisers to protect their rights.
If others can use the rings and the name “Olympic,” why should the big companies pay so much money?
“Without our sponsors, the games simply wouldn’t happen,” London organisers said in a statement. “They provide funding, products, services and expertise to help us stage the games and with that have purchased exclusivity in their sector.”
British legislators did their part, passing a law — described as draconian by critics — that gives organisers the power to bar companies from using Olympic trademarks and even certain combinations of words — such as “London 2012″ — that may infringe on the rights of sponsors.
“Where there are serious or deliberate attempts to ambush the Games … we will take swift and firm action,” London chiefs added.
Still, it’s a little sad to go by 61 West Ham Lane and see the maroon sign with the “O” rubbed out.
“We really did put the pressure on,” said regulator Steve Miller, who heads a body to standardise local regulations. The group has since stepped away from the branding business.
Cafe workers say the “O” vanished after they became tired of talking to reporters. But even Miller confessed to being somewhat startled, having wandered by one day to see it missing.
“I thought it had fallen off,” he said.