Want to strike gold at the Olympics? Don't be an official sponsor

Rival firms bend rules to reap rewards from the Games

Major competitors of the official Olympic sponsors have begun ramping up advertising campaigns that tap into growing enthusiasm for all things sporty in an attempt to steal a march on their rivals.

Official sponsors of the Games have invested more than £1bn to ensure their brands hold pole position throughout Olympic venues. To protect their status organisers have brought in some of the strictest regulations seen during a major international sporting event to control who can advertise where.

But that hasn't stopped major brands from finding ways to get around the current rules and launch sports-themed advertising campaigns that capture the Olympic spirit. And it appears to be working. The latest analysis by the Global Language Monitor, a company that assesses which brands are linked in the public's imagination with various events, shows more than half of the top 50 companies associated with the Olympics are not official sponsors.

A new campaign by the fast food chain Subway, a major rival to the official Olympic sponsor McDonald's, has raised eyebrows for using four British athletes to advertise sandwiches under the strap-line "Train hard. Eat fresh".

Meanwhile FedEx, the main competitor to the official logistics supplier UPS, will unveil a new campaign later this month with SportsAid to sponsor awards of £1,000 to 25 "future Olympians and Paralympians" who will feature in the campaign.

Brand experts describe the technique as "ambush" or "guerrilla" marketing and it has long been associated with major sporting events. During the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, the British sprinter Linford Christie stole a march on the official sponsors Reebok when he turned up to a press conference wearing contact lenses sporting the Puma logo.

A report this year showed the clothing company most associated with the Olympics was Nike, even though Adidas is the official Olympic sponsor. Professor Mark Ritson, a marketing specialist at Melbourne Business School, said consumers were invariably "totally bemused" by who is an official sponsor and who isn't. "There are clearly some companies using guerrilla tactics but it's also the case that some of the official Olympic sponsors have created campaigns that are completely ineffectual," he said.

To counter ambush marketing, the organisers Locog have brought in regulations banning any non-official advertising from Olympic venues and surrounding areas. A Locog spokeswoman said: "The London 2012 brand is our most valuable asset."

Manaaz Akhtar, head of marketing for Subway, disputed the suggestion that their latest campaign was an example of ambush marketing. "Absolutely not," she said. "We've been using athletes such as [the US swimmer] Michael Phelps to advertise Subway for many years."

Greece: Olympic torch blown out on its way to London

The Olympic torch was lit, briefly, in the ancient Temple of Hera yesterday and passed to the Liverpool-born Greek swimming world champion Spyros Gianniotis who passed it to Alexander Loukos, a British boxer of Greek descent.

Shortly after, a gust of wind blew out the flame, forcing it to be relit. The torch is due to arrive in Cornwall on 18 May.

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