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Think BR: Olympics & Paralympics - key dates for advertisers' diaries

There are some important dates to take note of around the Olympics if you want to stay on the right side of the rules, writes Geraint Lloyd-Taylor, senior associate in the media brands & technology team, Lewis Silkin LLP.

Geraint Lloyd-Taylor, media brands & technology team, Lewis Silkin LLP

Geraint Lloyd-Taylor, media brands & technology team, Lewis Silkin LLP

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After years of build up, the greatest show on earth is finally upon us and, while most are avidly following the sporting fixtures list, there is another set of key dates that brand owners and advertising agencies should be paying keen attention to.

If you are - or work for - a brand owner or agency which either uses or refers to Olympic or Paralympic athletes in any advertising, or advertises - or intends to advertise - anywhere near an Olympic or Paralympic event, you should mark the following crucial dates in your diary (it is worth noting that these dates are for general guidance only, and may be subject to change without notice).

Red represents a date on which restrictions are imposed, green represents a date on which restrictions are lifted. 

18 July - Olympics ‘blackout period’ began

Under Rule 40 of the Olympics Charter, Olympic athletes, coaches, trainers and officials must ensure that they are no longer featured in any advertising until after this blackout period is over (on 15 August), unless they have obtained permission from the International Olympic Committee (IOC), otherwise they could face fines, expulsion from the Games themselves and/or removal of their accreditation. 

This prohibition includes the use of their image (or other representation, such as a caricature), name and ‘sports performance’.

Some exceptions will be made for official sponsors who have been granted permission and some very limited ‘deemed consents’. Those relying on ‘deemed consent’ must ensure it still applies during the blackout period, because many types of deemed consent will not.

While the responsibility for complying with this rule ultimately lies with the individual athletes, in practice brand owners and agencies who featured athletes in their advertising campaigns in the run up to the games had to abide by their contractual - and moral - obligations to stop featuring the athletes in their ads from 18 July onwards. 

Those who failed to pull the relevant ads - including billboard ads, press ads, on-pack promotions, in-store promotions and websites - risk undoing all of the goodwill gained from using those athletes in the first place, and may be caught up in a PR maelstrom. 

If you want to test the theory that there’s no such thing as bad publicity - now would seem to be the time. 

Note that this ‘blackout period’ relates to Olympic athletes, coaches, trainers and officials, so Paralympic athletes can still be featured in advertising in principle, provided there is no unauthorised or misleading association with the Games or use of any Olympics or Paralympics related trademarks, protected words or symbols, copyright materials, etc.

23 July - First Event Zones became operational from this date - including the Olympic Park (Stratford)

If you’re not an official sponsor your brand should not be visible at all in any Event Zones, save in very limited circumstances. 

The area around the Olympic Park is perhaps the most significant and well known of the Event Zones, but a number of other Event Zones will pop up between this date and the end of the Paralympics. 

Many of the Event Zones are temporary, and are timed to coincide with certain events, so may only be in place for short periods. 

You can find out where and when these Event Zones are appearing by visiting www.london2012.com/business/advertising-and-trading-regulations/event-maps. Some of the Event Zones are very large and appear where you’d expect them to be, others are relatively small, and others are meandering, for example, those which follow the cycle routes, so don’t get caught out.

Over 280 enforcement officers from the Olympic Delivery Authority are pounding the streets around the Event Zones. These enforcement officers are on the lookout for any ambush marketing activity, ie, brands creating an unauthorised or misleading association between themselves (or their products/services) and the Games.

As George Orwell spins in his grave, under new and thankfully temporary legislation, these enforcement officers even have the power to enter premises without a warrant to put a stop to unauthorised ambush marketing activity - a power with which not even the British Police are trusted.

26 July to 12 August - Opening Ceremony, followed by the 2012 London Olympic Games.  Note: many Event Zones pop up on 27 July

Note that even after the Games end, it is still not permissible to use Olympic athletes in advertising for three full days after the closing ceremony.

14 August - Olympic Park briefly ceases to be an Event Zone

The related restrictions are relaxed until 27 August (inclusive).

16 August - Olympics ‘blackout period’ is lifted

The Olympics ‘blackout period’ for Olympic athletes, coaches, trainers and officials is lifted. From this date on it will be safe to use them again in advertising, provided there is no unauthorised or misleading association with the Games or use of any Olympics or Paralympics related trademarks, protected words or symbols, copyright materials, etc.

21 August - Paralympics ‘blackout period’ begins

The ‘blackout period’ for the Paralympic athletes, coaches, trainers and officials begins. Note that this ‘blackout period’ relates to Paralympic athletes, coaches, trainers and officials, and not to Olympic athletes.

28 August - Olympic Park becomes an Event Zone once again

29 August to 9 September – Paralympics Opening Ceremony, followed by the London 2012 Paralympic Games

10 September - Olympic Park ceases to be an Event Zone for good

From this day onwards there will be no active Event Zones. Most Event Zones evaporated well before this date and the Olympic Park was amongst the last few active Event Zones.

13 September - Paralympics ‘blackout period’ is lifted

The ‘blackout period’ for the Paralympic athletes, coaches, trainers and officials ends. From this date on it will be safe to use them again in advertising, provided there is no unauthorised or misleading association with the Games or use of any Olympics or Paralympics related trademarks, protected words or symbols, copyright materials, etc.

The above guidelines may seem complex, however, if brand owners and agencies are aware of the crucial dates and related restrictions, all should be set for London to take the stage and play host to a successful Games - in marketing terms at least.

Geraint Lloyd-Taylor, senior associate in the media, brands & technology team, Lewis Silkin LLP. He can be contacted at Geraint.Lloyd-Taylor@lewissilkin.com

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