Rules and Rogues

January 29, 2010



Marketing magazine just published a piece I wrote entitled, ‘Rules and Rogues – VANOC’s approach to ambush marketers may keep the lawyers happy but the strategy is backfiring.’  Here are a few excerpts:


The Vancouver Organizing Committee has got its staid knickers in a knot over Lululemon’s new clothing line. The retailer’s “Cool Sporting Event That Takes Place in British Columbia Between 2009 and 2001” special edition clothing line has raised the ire of Olympic officials who accuse the yoga-wear company of rogue advertising and unsports-manlike conduct, and have threatened a “name and shame” campaign to encourage compliance. Even though VANOC concedes no laws have been broken, it believes it has the right to remind the public that Lululemon is not a sponsor of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympic Games.

VANOC’s ill-conceived strategy gives the story ‘legs’ enabling the ambusher even more and longer media exposure and puts the conflict on the front pages of the newspaper instead of being dissolved in the miasma of marketing clutter.

The rationale and effectiveness of the “name and shame” tactic is suspect. The legal goal is obviously to protect the intellectual property rights vested in the Olympics so that official sponsors get the maximum return on their investment and VANOC benefits insofar as being the beneficiary of the sponsorship fees. Underlying the strategy is a dogma that prevents them from seeing the trap set by the ambush marketer.

Lululemon is a made-in-BC success story. It has succeeded not only in launching a new product line but in making VANOC look silly while getting a mountain of free publicity. VANOC would be well advised to reconsider its approach the next time around.


In light of VANOC’s recent harassment and threatened litigation of Toasterz, a BC-based business that manufacturers reusable heat packs and features a flame in the product’s name, or the bleating over Scotiabank’s ‘Show Your Colours’ campaign featuring two-time Olympic hockey gold medallist Cassie Campbell, it appears the lesson has yet to be learned.

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