Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Commonwealth Came to Glasgow

After the hiatus in posting over the summer we are back with another posting from one of our PATLIB UK centres. Our colleagues in Glasgow have recovered after the euphoria of the Commonwealth Games and reflect on intellectual property's role in the games.

Glasgow was buzzing and the medal winners were amazing but it wasn't all about the sport or indeed the legacy.

Branding and sponsorship has in these Games as it did in the London Olympics and indeed in every modern major sporting event played a vital part.  To see the beginnings of modern sports sponsorship you have to go back to 1852 when a marketing-savvy agent for the Boston, Concord and Montreal Railway sponsored the Yale v Harvard Boat Race in order to promote the railroad to the spectators (Harvard Magazine May-June 2002).  Kodak was one of the first companies to offer sponsorship to the International Olympic Committee in 1896 in return for an advertisement in the programme of the first modern Olympics held in Athens.  Their sponsorship indeed lasted until 2008 when the company decided to refocus its marketing strategy (Reuters Oct 12 2007).

One of the first major moves of the Glasgow Commonwealth Games Organising Committee was to create a trademark prior to their successful bid for the Commonwealth Games XX.  To date the committee has fourteen trademarks registered with the Intellectual Property Office and one more which is under examination which appears not only on the merchandise being sold but has been inculcated into the advertising of the sponsors who donated varying sums of money or goods in order to be associated with the Games and thereby gain access to the worldwide audience which it is attracting.  It is in effect a series of partnerships in which each contributes something unique to itself and gains something which it doesn’t have access to.

The sponsors of course then build a marketing campaign around their involvement.  A.G. Barr the maker of our “other national drink” (Irn Bru for the uninitiated) set aside £12m for their multi-brand marketing in the run up to the Games. 

Virgin Media on the other hand is giving Games visitors a chance to race against Usain Bolt – virtually that is – in their engagement marketing campaign which will run for the duration of the Games.

Tunnock’s the manufacturers of the teacakes which caused such a storm in the opening ceremony must be counting every one of their £ well-spent when their sales rose by 62% as the dancing teacakes dominated the headlines and Twitter.

This is one of the reasons why the protection of the brand identity through logos and trademarks is so important to the integrity of the partnership and is indeed protected in law.  You can’t have a company paying (either in cash or in kind) for an association with such an important worldwide event and then allow a non-contributing competitor to enjoy the same association by displaying the Games trademarks or advertising their products at the Games.

This of course can lead to all sorts of problems such as ambush marketing – a marketing technique in which advertisers work to connect their product with a particular event in the minds of potential customers, without having to pay sponsorship.  One of the most awkward moments of the 2010 FIFA World Cup was when 36 young women dressed in orange mini skirts associated with the Dutch brewers Bavaria entered the stands and were swiftly ejected.  Two of the perpetrators according to a BBC report were arrested for organising “unlawful commercial activities”.

Brand protection is a very complicated subject as Lord Coe found out shortly before the London Olympics when he was reported as saying that spectators would not be allowed to wear t shirts emblazoned with Pepsi logos as Coca-Cola were one of the official sponsors.

On a lighter note my colleague’s boyfriend has had occasion to don one of the Clyde costumes but she assured me that he wasn’t the real Clyde who accompanies the Queen’s baton.  I had a vision of a six foot thistle man waking up early on Christmas morning to find a rotund gentleman with a long white beard and dressed in a red suit at the bottom of his bed greeting him with the words: “The real Clyde I presume.  How do you do I’m the real Santa.”

Catherine Queen