This website uses cookies to improve your experience. Continue if you are OK with this or read more in our privacy policy. 

Ambush marketing: the wrath of Rio


Andrew Bellingall

Ambush marketing: the wrath of Rio

lazyllama / Shutterstock.com

Sponsors of the Olympic and Paralympic Games invest up to $100 million in the events, so the International Olympic Committee should be tough on ambush marketers, argues Andrew Bellingall of Daniel Advogados ahead of the 2016 games in Rio de Janeiro.

In August 2016 Brazil will be the focus of attention for billions of people from around the world who will watch the Olympic and Paralympic Games being held in Rio de Janeiro. The sponsorship of these events costs between $10 million and $100 million for each company.

For this reason many companies that do not have the money or opportunity to become official sponsors still want to benefit from the massive audience of the event in an unofficial capacity. But any unofficial connection with the Olympic and Paralympic Games is actually ambush marketing.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) defines ambush marketing as “any intentional or unintentional attempt to create a false, unauthorised commercial association with a brand or event, in this case Rio 2016 and the Olympic and Paralympic movements”. It may also be considered as “any marketing strategy in which the participant associates itself, and therefore benefits from, a particular event, without paying the required sponsorship”.

Even the official sponsors must take care not to go beyond the authorisation of the IOC to associate themselves with the Olympic and Paralympic events. The rules concerning the use of the IOC’s trademarks are very restrictive and even those who pay $100 million to become official sponsors may be guilty of ambush marketing.

Advertising is banned from inside all stadia hosting events and even federal buildings, such as airports. For example, during August 2016 the Rio de Janeiro international airport will not exhibit any advertising whatsoever, whether related to the games or not.

Past skirmishes

There have been many examples of ambush marketing over the last 30 years.

Nike was the official sponsor of the Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia in 1996. When athlete Linford Christie appeared at a news conference wearing contact lenses bearing the mark ‘Puma’, the lenses created an undue association between Puma and the Olympic Games, and created controversy and therefore more publicity about the unofficial use of the Puma brand.

During the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games, although Fujifilm was the official sponsor of the event, its rival Kodak sponsored the commercial TV breaks and the US athletics team, leading many consumers to believe that it was the official sponsor. The tables were turned in 1988 at Seoul when Kodak was the official sponsor and Fujifilm sponsored the US swimming team.

At the 1992 Barcelona Games, Reebok was the official sponsor of the US men’s basketball team, much to the chagrin of Nike, which had always been the sponsor of the US basketball star Michael Jordan. During the medals ceremony, Jordan covered the ‘Reebok’ trademark he was wearing with the American flag. Deliberately covering the trademark of an official sponsor must be considered an illicit act for the purposes of ambush marketing.

Anyone daring to hold an event in Rio this year must avoid any reference to Rio 2016 or face the wrath of the federal authorities.

In the Olympic Games in London in 2012 the bookmaker Paddy Power used billboards to announce that it was the “official sponsor of the largest athletics event in London” that year, with the caveat that it was referring to an egg and spoon race held in the town of London in France.

Paddy Power had indeed sponsored an athletics event in London, France, and had the express purpose of misleading the public in an amusing way. The IOC had the good sense not to take any action against Paddy Power, which would no doubt have enjoyed the opportunity of some free ‘bad’ publicity.

Brazil’s time to shine

This year in Brazil, the federal authorities have a legal obligation to suppress acts of ambush marketing, based on article 6 of the Olympic Act (Law No. 12.035/2009), which states:

“Federal authorities are responsible for controlling, overseeing and suppressing any unlawful acts which violate the rights of the trademarks used in connection with the Rio 2016 games.”

For the purposes of this act the trademarks related to the 2016 games are:

I.  All graphically distinctive signs, flags, mottos, emblems and anthems used by the IOC;

II. The names ‘Olympic Games’, ‘Paralympic Games’, ‘Rio 2016 Olympic Games’, ‘Rio 2016 Paralympic Games’, ‘XXXI Olympic Games’, ‘Rio 2016’, ‘Rio Olympics’, ‘Rio 2016 Olympics’, ‘Rio Paralympics’, ‘Rio 2016 Paralympics’ and other abbreviations and variations and also those equally relevant which may be created for the same purposes, in any language, including those in connection with internet website domains;

III. The name, emblem, flag, anthem, motto and trademarks and other symbols of the Rio 2016 Organising Committee; and

IV. The mascots, trademarks, torches and other symbols in connection with the XXXI Olympic Games, Rio 2016 Olympic Games and Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.

Trademarks to watch out for

The protected design trademarks are:












Although it may be considered reasonable to prohibit the use of the design marks of the IOC or the marks ‘Olympic Games’ and ‘Paralympic Games’, extending the prohibition to ‘Rio 2016’ seems excessive. Anyone daring to hold an event in Rio this year must avoid any reference to Rio 2016 or face the wrath of the federal authorities.

Is the protection conferred on the IOC really necessary? To associate yourself with the Olympics or Paralympics without authorisation could be prejudicial to the investment made by the official sponsors. The Olympic and Paralympic Games in Rio will cost more than $1.36 billion (with a further $5.8 billion being spent on public transport projects).

Half of the money the IOC has received from sponsorship and licensing has gone towards the expenses associated with the Olympics and Paralympics in 2016 and the Winter Games held in Sochi in 2014.

The IOC itself states that “the success of the games chiefly depends on the support of commercial partners. They acquire sponsorship quotas, licensing, concessions and box office, among other possibilities, and thereby are entitled to associate their brands, products and services with the Olympic and Paralympic brands, as well as to that of Rio 2016”.

In principle, the protection of the IOC’s trademarks is essential to help finance the games, and so the measures to prevent the unauthorised use of its trademarks become indispensable. The games require billions of dollars of investment and the failure to protect the interests of the sponsors could prejudice future events.

What company would invest $100 million if its competitors benefited from the same event in the same way but without spending a penny?

Andrew Bellingall is a partner at Daniel Advogados and joined the firm in 1999. He has in-depth knowledge of Brazil’s industrial property laws, particularly trademark and copyright. Bellingall manages portfolios for well-known clients in areas such as IT, entertainment, media, telecommunications and fashion. He can be contacted at: andrew.bellingall@daniel.adv.br

Andrew Bellingall, Daniel Advogados, The International Olympic Committee, ambush marketing, trademark, Nike,


Payment types accepted