Popehat Sponsors Summer Bronze, Silver, and Gold In London. Want Chips With That?

After I sounded this rather sour note about the Olympic brand (as opposed to Olympic achievement by actual athletes), Scott Greenfield responded with a thoughtful post inquiring if I went too far and touching on the reasons the USOC needs money. This is a subject on which Scott is well informed.

I don't doubt that fielding Olympic teams — particularly across a diverse array of events — is very expensive. My point — expressed in somewhat crotchety fashion in that first post — was this: does the modern marketing of the Olympic brand detract from the institution of the Olympics more than it advances it?

You need money to run the Olympics, and paid sponsorships are money machines for everyone involved. But sponsorship carries distasteful elements, particularly when administered by tin-eared officials. That's how the London Organising Committee found itself backing down from an embarrassing and needlessly provocative decision to give McDonald's the exclusive right to sell chips (fries to you and me) in and around the Olympic venues — unless, of course, the chips were accompanied by fish. As "brand police" begin to wander the green and pleasant lands, more ridiculousness may ensue:

Olympics organisers have warned businesses that during London 2012 their advertising should not include a list of banned words, including "gold", "silver" and "bronze", "summer", "sponsors" and "London".

Publicans have been advised that blackboards advertising live TV coverage must not refer to beer brands or brewers without an Olympics deal, while caterers and restaurateurs have been told not to advertise dishes that could be construed as having an association with the event.

And it remains to be seen whether this Vanity Fair assertion will prove true:

Inside Olympic venues, spectators may not “wear clothes or accessories with commercial mes­sages other than the manufacturers’ brand name.”

Previously I've criticized public-institution coziness with branding and the foolish behavior it causes. The Olympics themselves are not a government institution, but increasingly they can bend public institutions to their will. How will that reflect on the institutions, or on the Olympics?

Edited to add: Thanks to Anthony, who told was I assumed was a joke, until I realized it was true: check out the Terms of Use of www.london2012.com:

5. Linking policy

a. Links to the Site. You may create your own link to the Site, provided that your link is in a text-only format. You may not use any link to the Site as a method of creating an unauthorised association between an organisation, business, goods or services and London 2012, and agree that no such link shall portray us or any other official London 2012 organisations (or our or their activities, products or services) in a false, misleading, derogatory or otherwise objectionable manner. The use of our logo or any other Olympic or London 2012 Mark(s) as a link to the Site is not permitted. View our guidelines on Use of the Games' Marks.

Hey London2012: I intend this to portray you in a derogatory and objectionable manner.

Last 5 posts by Ken White


  1. PhilG says

    while caterers and restaurateurs have been told not to advertise dishes that could be construed as having an association with the event.

    That is my favorite part. No "Golden Onion Rings" or "Phelps' 8-time Baked Potatoes" ? The tragedy!

  2. plutosdad says

    That is getting to be ridiculous. So a local pub can't have "Gold Fish and Chips" or special dishes. As if anyone would get confused that the dish is "sponsored", just a local business trying to make a little more money. Can't have that though.

    And they're telling spectators what to wear to? How is this not shameful bullying?

  3. David says

    Well I consider it objectionable not to refer to the Olympic Committee in a derogatory manner.

  4. Will says

    Inside Olympic venues, spectators may not “wear clothes or accessories with commercial mes­sages other than the manufacturers’ brand name.”

    I’ll be shocked if they stop people at the football (soccer) matches from wearing replica team shirts with sponsors across the front. The ensuing riots could make last year’s look like a tea party.

  5. Pete says

    I think that for the duration of the Olympics, the Popehat banner should be revised to state "A Group Complaint about Law, Liberty, and Leisure that is in no manner associated with the Totalitarian Pig Scratchers of the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games" :)

  6. Stephen Parkin says

    Macdonald's always make a big thing about selling fries, not chips. So why are they bothered now?

    I'd be buggered here. I love chips, but don't eat fish – so I'd have to buy a fish for £6 or whatever and chuck it away? Still, I'm not going.

    Capitalists always say that competition is a good thing: when presented with the chance to get rid of all competition to themselves they jump at it.

  7. Zyaama says

    Thank you. As much as I like London, I hate what happens there now. So I decided to actively ignore any positive comments about Voldesport and will avoid the products of all their sponsors. Im afraid we will have to make the brand toxic, before we can have games that are about the sports again.

  8. Dustin says

    I am somewhat uninformed on the specifics of British law, but I'm curious how these kinds of bans are even legally enforceable there. Is there really nothing that stops the British government from favoring one private entity over another to such an extreme degree?

  9. Rangoric says

    Wait a sec, are they seriously banning the words "summer" and "London"? So you need an deal to say "We are in London, come visit us this summer" in an ad? I'm not sure they've quite thought this through. But I guess gobs of money do that.

  10. says

    I don't believe for a second that they can disallow people from linking to them in an unfavorable light. I cannot imagine how, for us Americans, this is *not* protected under the First Amendment, unless the USOC owns your blog hosting service or ISP. I hope they take the bait.

  11. says

    It wouldn't be the first time someone has said something emptily threatening in the hopes that it'd deter the uninformed, but I really, really, really dislike that tactic.

  12. Another guy named Dan says

    "The Olympics themselves are not a government institution…"

    That statement can be considered either true, false, or some of each, depending on the country and the Organizing Committee. IN the US, the USOC is a government chartered organization that does not recieve any direct financial support. In many, if not most, other countries, the Olympic movement is under the auspices of something on the order of the Ministry of Youth, Sport, and Culture (try combining those three in the US), a direct department of the national government.

    In the areas of the Organizing committees, for example the 1984 Los Angeles games were largely privately funded and supported, while the 2000 Athens games were almost entirely a Greek government project. the 2002 Salt Lake Winter games fell somewhat in the middle, with a lot of development and infrastructure support from state and local governments, and security assistance from the Feds.

  13. says

    The nonsense coming from the Olympic committee this year is so retarded I fully expect them to get sued by the Special Olympics for infringement.

  14. nlp says

    They can't use the word London? Really? They aren't allowed to give the address of their business? Have the organizers gone crazy?

    Well, yes, obviously. They wouldn't be able to do that in the US, (they could try, but I can see the lawsuits mounting up) but I suppose the laws in England are different and only sponsoring firms are allowed to give their address. So clearly the airports must have paid big bucks to include the word LONDON when trying to give directions.

    I'm wondering if the time will come when a city will say, "you know something? It isn't worth it. The whole mess and insane rules and problems are going to reach the point where we don't think the money is worth it."

    What are they going to do with the spectators wearing branded clothing? Strip them in public?

  15. says

    No, you can use any one of those words. You can't combine word from column A (London) with word from column B (2012). I'm not saying that's any better, but just so we understand what we're talking about.

    The 32 mile traffic jam into London that their special no-peasants-allowed lanes caused today isn't helping anyone's mood, either.

  16. Wondering says

    @nlp, they'll probably tell you that you can't enter the venue wearing your clothes, so either you have to leave or you have to buy one of their overpriced, officially licensed clothing items.

  17. leslie says

    Off topic, but did you read about the American Olympic athletes' clothing debacle? The costumes for the opening ceremony were designed by Ralph Lauren, but made in China?

  18. Connie says

    @Leslie – on that topic, the Spanish costumes were produced in Russia. Guess everyone is outsourcing their outfits…

  19. tabstop says

    The apparel thing is not particularly new. I remember seeing an episode of QI (so minor [citation needed]) about the European championships of (I believe) four years ago where a Dutch brewer who wasn't the official sponsor had made some orange lederhosen, a large number of fans wore them to the match, and a large number of fans watched the match in their underpants.

  20. nlp says

    Thanks, S. Weasel. That makes a little more sense, although I think they're going to have trouble not allowing people to give the date and location of anything else that might be going on. Forbidding the two together, London2012 is one thing, but they might run into problems forbidding people to advertise other events taking place long after the Olympians leave.

    Several years ago the city of Boston was lucky enough to host the Democratic convention, and anyone who suggests having another one will be run out of town on a rail. Once the Secret Service announced that North Station would have to be closed, the anger started mounting.

    You have my sympathy.

  21. says

    Oh, I'm down on the South coast in a sheep field, couple of hours from London. They're running the torch through my county at the moment, though, so I'll probably turn out to jeer and pull faces while wearing clothing with unapproved logos.

    When I worked outside Boston, they ran the torch past my workplace. We never did work out the gender of the bearer, despite the shorts and tank top.

  22. Geoff says


    Your statement is invalid. London is not the Olympics. And anyway, can a city be an asshole?

    @Chris R

    "Why is the Olympic committee ruining my Olympic spirit?"

    Because it's a committee.

  23. Personanongrata says

    … does the modern marketing of the Olympic brand detract from the institution of the Olympics more than it advances it?

    Yes, it does, branding downright destroys the institution of the Olympics in the name of profit.

  24. Look at that says

    I'm looking forward to the day when we have two tiers of sports:

    Tier CD: Corporate sponsorship and any and all drugs allowed.

    Tier A: Amateur only, no sponsorship other than crowd funding to support the athletes.

  25. Myk says

    These stupid rules are unfortunately not a new thing. When New Zealand held the Rugby World Cup (Rugby: like American Football, but played by men without padding, with</i? spikes on their boots) last year, the NZ Government passed legislation codifying the same sorts of things as the Londin 200012 (TM) committee. No non-authorised clothing, limited food options etc. The most ridiculous? The NZ Rugby Team is known as the All Blacks, as their uniform is black. A women's intimates shop got threatened and harassed because they were advertising "All black lingerie 20% off this week".

    There is no underestimating the capacity for stupidity in committees where corporate interests and large sums of money are involved.

  26. Jordan says

    The fact is that the entire Olympics is an international moneymaking venture for large companies. That's really it. There's no pride involved anymore except perhaps from the participating athletes, but in the end it's just a contest to see who can jump the highest or run the fastest. Tradition, honor, the Games, bringing together countries is all sold out in favor of making billions of dollars for the sponsors.

  27. RogBoy says

    Does the bbc reporting of the Group4 security fiasco count as being derogatory?

    The London Olympics are organised by a particularly objectionable bunch of numpty f@ckwits. Portray them ken, portray them in particularly derogatory manner. What with the issues of G4S, MickeyD sponsorship, coupled with the fact that there are more squaddies deployed to protect the table tennis in London than are deployed in afghan, it's hard to see where the non-derogatory portrayal is going to come from.

  28. Beauzeaux says

    Here in British Columbia we had the dubious honor of hosting the 2010 games. The IOC is a bully and like most bullies tries to get away with ever more and more intimidation.
    They can't stop anyone from using words like "gold" or "summer" but like MacDonald's they employ a stable of lawyers and will try and make people's lives miserable until they submit. And that, my friends, is the REAL Olympic spirit.

  29. Kelly says

    They continue to prove why I am boycotting all sponsors and the stupid games. Yes, even Guinness since it is supplied by Budweiser to the US market. That bit made me grumpy, but I am not giving any of them even a penny.

    Now, I have to go plan my Ravelry games projects so I can 'degrade' the "Word that must not be used" Games a bit more.

    Why yes I am still angry.

  30. says

    The no-branded fashion rule was enforced at the Greek olympics. Anyone wearing anything non-sponsored had to either remove it or cover the branding with tape.

    As for Chips/fries… well chips are not fries, they are chunkier and usually shorter!

  31. says

    Well how long ago did the SCOTUS rule that Major League Baseball was a sport not a business so MLB could go screw with businesses, engage in anti-competitive bull, and sue everybody all they want?

    If I had magical god-like powers I would summon a cadre of naked ancient greek dudes to file a heroically formal old-style complaint about the misappropriation of holy symbolism as crass commercialism.

    Okay, I doubt the ancient greeks would really care, but my argument would probably consist of "get those toads!" and a lot of excited pointing, and the ancient greek dudes would probably assume evil sorcery and do something amusing.

    Any person or entity who wants to play "this word is ours" deserves to have their ass handed to them by naked ancient greek heroes.

  32. swearyanthony says

    Other highlights (am on phone, so digging up links too painful):

    As noted above, the G4S debacle which has resulted in a bunch of UK Army folks who have just returned from deployment having their leave delayed so they can play rent-a-cop for the Olympics.

    The surface to air missiles being installed on the roof of apartment buildings (residents sued and lost)

    Ambulances aren't allowed to use the special VIP lanes unless they have their sirens on.

    I reckon they should just get rid of the athletes entirely, after all its the sponsors who are the real champions.

    And of course the Olympics still try and tie themselves to the notion of "amateur athletics". Its enough to drive someone to Marxism, it really is.

  33. Christopher Swing says

    And yet Olympic-level taint-snorting is still not a sanctioned event.

    Related, via another pope-like object:

    The Blitz spirit

    See, the Olympics have two cuddly toy mascots, Wenlock and Mandeville. (Never mind, for now, that these focus-group-tested horrors resemble a bizarre cross between an animated CCTV camera and a dildo with legs: it's the thought that counts.)

    Of course, as is always the case with sporting mascots these days, merchandising happens: toy plushies are on sale. And so are much more dubious souvenirs. ("Hello, I'm Wenlock! Don't I look smart in my police officer's uniform? I have the important job of protecting you on your journey to the London 2012 Games … we can have lots of fun together!")

    No, seriously: go marvel at the true Orwellian horror of the product, then read the customer reviews. Especially the one-star reviews.

  34. says

    @swearyanthony: Initially, #2 was mildly hilarious. Then it occurred to me that it means they'd shoot down a hijacked jet over a residential area. Disturbing.

  35. Maude LL says

    I think this is fairly common, and with the internet, the OC is basically shooting itself in the foot (if their intent is to "protect the brand").
    I recall a similar problem with the VANOC before the Vancouver Olympics in 2010. In 2004, as the city was getting ready for the Olympics, the committee went after a small Greek restaurant for being called "Olympia", clearly to profit from the Olympics. The problem is, that was the restaurant's name for the last 25 years… I think it got resolved because of public outrage, but there were a lot of petty actions from the OC against individuals in the province.

  36. Matthew Cline says

    Wearing purple caps and tops, the experts in trading and advertising working for the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) are heading the biggest brand protection operation staged in the UK. Under legislation specially introduced for the London Games, they have the right to enter shops and offices and bring court action with fines of up to £20,000.


  37. AlphaCentauri says

    Cities compete to host the Olympics because it's supposed to help the local economy. If the local merchants are shut out of doing any Olympics-related business, the phenomenal expense and inconvenience can't be justified at all.

    As far as Wenlock and Mandeville, oh… my… god. ONE eye each?? Was that to get people in the Olympic spirit by recreating a cyclops? Are they both male, or are they capable of breeding? They look like they were thought up by the same people that created Teletubbies, with the disembodied voice coming from a loudspeaker, calling the tubbies to video navel-gazing like an imam calling the people to prayer.

  38. Will says

    Yes it sounds like the Chinese olympics are going to go very well, oh wait, what's that? This is in Britain?!

  39. Bruce says

    Clothing issues were started by some ambush marketing at previous games. I went to the volleyball quarter finals and one entire section of the crowd were wearing a yellow t-shirt with some portugese writing on the front. I thought they just a well organised group of brazilian fans but it turns out it was a beer company that handed a shirt to everyone as the walked in. That company got a decent chunk of exposure for the cost of a few boxes of shirts, which is innovative, but unlikely to win friends in the IOC and their intent to monetise every fragment of their operation.

  40. says

    What I find amazing is how the olympics were originally sold to the UK (by the government) was with the promise that it would bring business to the UK and be a huge boost to the economy. Yet now we see that: local business can't really refer to the games going on just over there without a multi-million pound sponsorship deal (apparently the extra tax that Londoners are paying for the games doesn't count). Additionally the businesses directly local to the games will suffer as the Olympic park has been designed to funnel tourists directly from public transport in to the park (via a privately owned shopping centre AKA mall) and so by-passing all the local business that it was supposed to help. The final nail in the coffin is that the companies that are sponsoring the games are getting tax breaks… so how's that economy boosting going?

  41. says

    We got a flyer this morning from our grocery (not part of a national chain, but a local family chain) with "Olympics London Summer 2012" alllllll over it. Don't quite know what to make of that.

  42. Phil says

    Much as the olympics machine sickens me, to be fair to them the actual restriction appears to be:

    Olympics organisers have warned businesses that during London 2012 their advertising should not include a list of banned words, including "gold", "silver" and "bronze", "summer", "sponsors" and "London", if they give the impression of a formal connection to the Olympics.

    That last part being fairly important for not taking things out of context.

  43. says

    Phil you are right but that wording alone is stopping people from using those icons even when it's obvious that there's no official association (e.g. this guy's olympics sausage sign which pretty obviously doesn't have formal connection).

    The copyright stuff is annoying (and quiet heavy handedly applied) but it's the other crap that really gets to me (e.g. swathes of transport being shut down/restricted for profit; missiles; excessive police powers etc.)

  44. NL_ says

    So by using the site you agree to the terms, but you can only read the terms by using the site? Hmm.

  45. Christopher Swing says

    one-star reviews are brilliant.

    "Extremely worried, 27 May 2012

    "I bought this toy last week and although it arrived quickly and it seems to be well made, I have some concerns. Every fifteen minute since I've opened it out of the packaging, it will shout phrases such as 'I AM THE EYE OF PROVIDENCE', 'PAX ROMANA' and 'THE SECRET IS WITHIN THE GREAT PYRAMID OF GIZA'.

    "I cannot find the source of the sound on the toy (speaker, etc) and I cannot find a battery compartment either. It's beginning to worry me very much as my dog will do nothing apart from stare at it incessantly for hours on end until he collapses from exhaustion. When he wakes up, he will continue to stare again. He is unresponsive to anything and he is becoming extremely emaciated."

    "Panopticon in my Pocket, 9 Jun 2012

    "Also known as "My Little Drony", this plastic Beelzebub all-knowingly looks into my very thoughts like the Eye of Sauron in in a hat. The five Olympic rings were forged in the fires of Mordor, and I know that Wenlock wants them, to gain supreme power over the human race, on behalf of Adidas, BP, Dow Chemical, McDonalds, and all the other hoardes of Satan, I mean, sustainability partners. I know that Wenlock can hear me typing – he can scent that I've used the word Olympics in a non-corporate approved manner, diluting his unholy brand image. I fear I haven't got much time… He is at the window… I… OH GOD… PLEASE… NO!"

  46. says

    I wish I could still draw. I'd love to have an evil Ronald McDonald with a marionette London 2012 logo and link it to the olympic site.

  47. nrasmuss13 says

    I'm just glad that they're able to concentrate on all of this important little stuff – like brand security. It just makes you feel so comfortable. I mean, if they've got time to worry about details like this, you know they must be quite certain that the big things – like *actual* security – have been well tended to.

    It's always such a shame when so much attention is put into the "big picture" that the little details are forgotten.

  48. JLA Girl says

    Further to @Beauzeaux above:

    I'm in Vancouver. The IOC in 2010 tried forcing a bunch of long term businesses to change their name (Olympia and Olympic anything was on their hit list). They even wanted some kind of bizarre search and seizure right to bang on doors and go in if they didn't like what you put up in your own window.

    But being Canadian, they promised to be 'nice' about it. Maybe they'd lock up after themselves after breaking down doors?

    So much for the Olympic spirit.

  49. marco73 says

    I'd be willing to bet that some gorilla marketter will come up with a great idea for publicity, in that "city on the Thames that cannot be named." They will hope to get arrested in a most public fashion, so that the international press will be all over the story.

    In a competition between lifer bureaucrats sitting around acting as petty despots versus just some guy who wants to make a buck – I'll take the guy who wants to make a buck anytime.

  50. Gigi says

    It's bizarre that large events such as the Olympics or the World Cup have so much influence on the whole running of a city. When countries are in the bid to 'win' an event governments argue the events will benefit local businesses, but if you see which restrictions are put in place, I fail fail to see what they are…

    See here an incident during the last World Cup:http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/football/competitions/world-cup-2010/7830319/World-Cup-2010-Police-arrest-women-in-Dutch-orange-dresses.html


  1. […] Via Popehat, I learned of the terms of use for this summer's Olympic Games official website, and this ridiculous section*: a. Links to the Site. You may create your own link to the Site, provided that your link is in a text-only format. You may not use any link to the Site as a method of creating an unauthorised association between an organisation, business, goods or services and London 2012, and agree that no such link shall portray us or any other official London 2012 organisations (or our or their activities, products or services) in a false, misleading, derogatory or otherwise objectionable manner. The use of our logo or any other Olympic or London 2012 Mark(s) as a link to the Site is not permitted. View our guidelines on Use of the Games' Marks. […]