The potential for ‘ambush marketing’ is typically a major headache for the organizers of major events such the Football World Cup and the Olympic Games. Perhaps the most famous example was Nike’s promotional campaign at the Atlanta 1996 Olympics which overshadowed the official sportswear sponsor, Reebok. Organizers go to great lengths to prevent businesses who are not official sponsors associating themselves with the event. The first example of protective legislation in the Olympic context was passed for Sydney 2000 (drawing upon legislation from the Australian Bicentennial celebrations in 1988 that had provided safeguards in relation to the commercial use of symbols, words and phrases).
However, recent survey evidence about the companies who are believed to be official Olympic Games partners for London 2012 suggests a fair level of confusion on the part of the British public — with several brands (including HSBC, British Gas, Virgin Atlantic, Mastercard and Pepsi) believed to be official partners despite having no formal link to the event. This highlights first of all that eye-catching ambush marketing ‘stunts’ are not necessary for firms to benefit from the illusion of perceived association with major events. It is also suggestive of a cognitive tendency of (some) individuals to view events such as the Olympics as necessarily related to global brands and commercialism, inhibiting the effectiveness of specific marketing and advertising campaigns – as the public struggle to distinguish between difference messages in the face of an abundant supply of advertising and marketing promotions.