Tania Clark: beware Rio Games strict ad sanctions

Just ahead of the start of the Rio Games, marketers are being warned not to get caught out by the strict marketing and advertising rules that apply to the use of various logos and other trade marks.

In a bid to deter ambush marketing during the Games, Brazil has introduced stricter-than-usual criminal sanctions for those who break the rules. Brand owners that fail to comply could end up with a hefty fine or even a custodial sentence of between three months to one year.

For those that may not be aware, ambush marketing is illegal and constitutes any intentional or unintentional activity that aims to create a commercial association with a brand or event. In this case, any unauthorised association with Rio 2016, the Olympics and the Paralympics could be deemed illegal. Any activity where a brand capitalises on this particular event without paying sponsorship fees would be breaking the laws set out by Brazil and could be costly or even include a prison sentence. So brands must observe the advertising rules before attempting any marketing during the Games.

In particular, use of the official Olympic or Paralympics logo or symbols, the iconic five rings or the Olympic strap line, in advertising is not permissible for non-sponsors. Becoming an official sponsor can be extremely expensive, with worldwide sponsors having shelled out around £40 million or more for the right to use the Rio 2016 logo and marketing collateral. With the likes of Coca Cola, Adidas, BT and BMW all invested, protecting their interest is vital and explains why the rules exist.

We advise any brand looking to advertise during the Games to be extra careful when planning their marketing campaigns. The rules in place for this event exist to protect corporate sponsors who have invested large sums for the privilege of associating themselves with the Games.

As one of the most protected logos in the world, registered as a trade mark in most of the 45 categories in the EU registry, illegal use of the Olympic logos or other protected rights in any design could lead to enforcement action, such as an injunction and a potential damages claim against the offending company. In some circumstances, infringement could even lead to a marketing injunction, preventing brands from advertising during the Olympic Games. Similar sanctions could be imposed if phrases are used that suggest an association with the Games, even if this is just as an expression of support for the national team.

While they might seem innocuous, certain ‘listed expressions’ are prohibited and brands need to take care and seek advice where necessary.

For more information on the advertising rules for Rio 2016, visit

1448626650TaniaClarkeTania Clark is a partner and trade mark attorney at intellectual property firm Withers & Rogers. With 160 partners and staff, Withers & Rogers has four principal regional bases in the UK at London, Bristol, the Midlands and Sheffield and an office in Munich. The firm’s client portfolio includes the Americas, the Far East and Australia as well as mainland Europe.

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