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South Africa moves to ban guerrilla marketing

JOHANNESBURG - The South African government has opted for draconian measures as it legislates against guerrilla marketing, promising potential jail sentences as the country tries to protect sponsors of the Cricket World Cup.

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According to a report in the Financial Times, the government has enacted a law prohibiting companies from trying to "achieve publicity of that trademark and thereby derive promotional benefit from the event without the prior authority of the organisers".

Guerrilla, or ambush, marketing has become an increasingly common way for major brands to muscle in on international sporting events without having to invest the large sums that are paid by official sponsors.

Some of these stunts are on a small scale, such as when Heineken persuaded Julia Carling to change her name to Julia Heineken for the last Rugby World Cup, which was sponsored by Guinness.

Others can backfire -- Vodafone landed in hot water with the threat of legal action when it sent two streakers on to a rugby pitch during a match in Australia. The streakers were covered in Vodafone logos in the stadium, sponsored by a rival telecom firm.

Other companies often going head-to-head over official and unofficial sponsorships include Nike and Reebok, and Coca-Cola and Pepsi. Pepsi was rapped over an ad for the 2002 FIFA World Cup suggesting it was a sponsor of the tournament, which was actually sponsored by Coca-Cola.

The FT reports that South Africa only plans to use the legislation for certain big events, and that prosecutions are only likely when there is a blatant infringement. But commentators point out that problems arise when individual players or teams are sponsored by different organisations to the official event sponsors.

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