The countdown is on. Only 140 days until the start of the XXX Olympiad on July 27th. All eyes were on London last week as the giant Olympic Rings were towed on The River Thames as part of the city’s plans for the London 2012 Festival.

As organizers begin final preparations, two words are generating buzz – ambush marketing. According to a 2010 report in the Wall Street Journal, ambush marketing assumes many forms these days, but an increasing number of companies try to hitch their brands to the biggest publicity magnets in sports without paying for rights.

With sponsorship spending on the rise the past 20 years, ambush marketing has become more lucrative. According to a recent study by Coventry University Business School, global sponsorship spending has risen from about $2 billion in 1984 to an estimated $43.5 billion in 2008. About 600 cases of global ambush marketing have been recorded during the past four years. One of the most high profile cases occurred in Germany during the 2006 World Cup. Several spectators were forced to watch the game in their underwear after being forced to remove their orange lederhosen linked to an ambush brewer Bavaria.

Olympic organizers are prepared to battle ambush marketers head-on. “Ambush police” will be created and exclusive marketing zones will be established within a set distance of venues. In addition, giveaways and aerial advertising will be regulated to help protect sponsors’ investments. The London Organizing Committee of the Olympic Games (LOCOG) is taking a zero tolerance approach. Penalties for such actions are severe, with ambush tactics resulting in a fine up to $31,900. Fans could even have items taken off them at Olympic stadiums and could lose their clothes if they conflict with the official sponsors’ merchandise. That’s no joke.

Just last summer a Honda digital advertising campaign was investigated to decide if it breached Olympic rules on advertising. Honda has no official commercial ties with the Games and BMW is the official car sponsor.

What are the ramifications for businesses and fans? Awareness is key. It’s important that businesses and fans are cognizant of how ambushing is defined and what the consequences are. Ambushing is a serious matter that everyone needs to understand. From a global perspective, failure to protect official sponsors can affect a country’s chance of hosting similar events in the future.

London is trying hard, but I doubt they can stop it all. Lessons will certainly be learned post Olympics. As you tune in to the games this summer, keep your eyes and ears open and be prepared for an ambush.

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