Forget the silliness of Monsanto and their wandering seeds. Forget the extraordinary chutzpa of the biotech company trying to trademark genes. The London Olympics have taken brand enforcement to new heights of absurdity. Apparently, an 81-year old Grannie in England who knitted a teeny tiny doll’s sweater with ‘GB 2012’ emblazoned on the front was forced to withdraw it from a Church bazaar. The doll, due to be sold for £1, was deemed to have breached the Olympic rules. The potential fine was £20,000. In May a florist in Stoke was reportedly ordered to dismantle a tissue paper Olympic logo. A marzipan cake was also attacked by the copyright police. A baker was similarly instructed to remove five bagels from his shop window. So too the butcher with his sausage rings.
Apparently fans are at risk if they upload personal pictures from the Games to their Facebook pages. One rumour suggested that if you show up wearing a Pepsi t-shirt you will get the boot. Of course, with sponsorship fees what they are, the stakes are high, and ever since American Express ambushed Visa as the official sponsor of the 1996 Games in Atlanta, guerrilla tactics have become increasingly inventive. While the clamp-down is understandable, it doesn’t make for good PR.
We are always telling our clients to relax a little. Don’t try to force-feed your product. Especially in this new era of citizen journalism, clients are going to have to learn to yield control. On one recent press trip, we had to push hard to encourage our client to allow their media guests to check out some of the competitors as well. But if we do our job well and if we are able to profile our competitive advantages, people will get it. And they are likely to reward your openness with an even stronger endorsement. So too the Olympic organizers and their sponsors. The opportunity lies in building strong relationships and showcasing unassailable products. Do that well, and you don’t have to worry about a little competitive muscle flexing. Might even win you some fans if you appear magnanimous. More sponsors should try it.