Olympic advertising ban: a pre-emptive ambush?

One of the key measures proposed to protect the interests of sponsors for the 2012 London Olympics and Paralympics is a prohibition on unauthorised advertising, including “ambush advertising”, around Olympic event sites.

The regulations imposing this advertising ban have now been implemented, as The London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games (Advertising and Trading) (England) Regulations 2011, and the LOCOG website has guidance on the regulations and how to comply with them. Crucially, this includes the maps of the “event zones” where advertising will be banned around the time of the Games.

The ban will apply for different periods for each event zone, as listed in Schedule 2 to the regulations, with the longest ban being around the Olympic Park itself: from 23 July to 13 August (for the Olympic Games), and then from 28 August to 9 September (for the Paralympic Games).

Anyone wishing to display advertisements within event zones during the relevant period (including existing traders) will need prior authorisation from LOCOG.

The types of “advertising activity” banned under the regulations are very broad, ranging from conventional billboards and signs to leaflet distributions and even the wearing of “advertising attire”.The thoroughness of the regulations is perhaps best shown by their express application of the ban to:

(i) an advertisement to be displayed on an animal, or

(ii) an apparatus by which an advertisement is displayed to be carried or held by an animal.

The mind boggles.

There is an exemption for people (though not for animals!) wearing clothes which carry advertisements, provided this isn’t part of an ambush marketing campaign, and also for “not-for-profit bodies”.

The regulations have been attacked by both advertisers and campaigners as “draconian” and an assault on freedom of expression. LOCOG, however, argues that the rules will “not only help protect the investment of sponsors”, but are also intended to ensure “a welcoming environment for spectators”.