One of the most widely viewed portions of the Olympics isn’t any of the competitive events or ceremonies. Over television and digital platforms, millions of eyes are on the bevy of advertisements decorating the Games. Each Olympic year, the International Olympic Committee and the host city of the Olympiad come together to protect the prestigious brand of the Games that will be on display for the world to see. Every advertiser wants a piece of the pie, but few have the resources required to become an ‘official sponsor.’ The title doesn’t come cheap; Adidas reportedly spent $62 million solely for the right to be one of the fortunate Olympic sponsors, which doesn’t even factor in the cost of creating, printing, and running their advertisements.
Other companies left in the dark typically engage in any sort of ‘guerilla’ marketing possible to grab attention during the biennial spectacle. Brands like Nike, American Express, and Kodak are some of the more prominent companies that the average person might expect to get involved in the $2.1 billion affair, but have been excluded from the London 2012 Games.
This year, with help from the British Parliament, the IOC has actually criminalized the kind of guerilla tactics so commonly seen as a result of the exclusivity of advertising at the Games. The result of the legislation has been the creation of a so called “brand police” squadron charged with fighting unauthorized campaigns. Among the broad duties of the Olympic Delivery Authority, responsible for much of the infrastructure of the Olympics, is enforcing the new branding rules. The ODA has posted 250 “specialist enforcement officers” at the 28 venues and sites across London to protect the integrity of the all-important official sponsorships
The extent of the powers granted to the ‘brand police’ has not been seriously tested, but there has been a great deal of discussion sparked merely by their presence at the Games. Murmurs from London suggest the squad may be quietly exercising its authority, pulling down unauthorized signage and telling athletes and spectators what to wear.
Regardless of hyperbole surrounding how severe the measures being taken to protect the messages of official Olympic sponsors, the creation of the “brand police” serves as the latest mile marker in the dramatic shift in brand culture since London’s first hosting of the Games just over a century ago in 1908. For many, it is a somewhat disconcerting sign of the times. Although G4S, the private security firm hired to handle security at the London games, failed to deliver, the group of esteemed official sponsors can rest easy knowing they are being strongly protected.