ASA guidance to help advertisers ‘take home the gold’ ahead of the Paris Olympic Games 2024

The Olympic Games will take place in Paris from 26 July to 11 August, and billions of fans will tune in to watch the greatest athletes in the world compete for sports’ most coveted prize. As the biggest televised event of the year, with such a vast range of sports, it is expected to attract viewers of all demographics and interests. Advertisers will look to take advantage of this unique opportunity to attract new customers. 

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In a similar manner to their recent marketing tips ahead of Euro 2020 (see our MediaWrites article here), the ASA has now published guidance to help businesses understand the key rules within the broadcast (“BCAP Code”) and non-broadcast (“CAP Code”) codes to, as the ASA says, “take home the gold” ahead of the Olympic Games.

Travel deals

Outside of France, British consumers have purchased the most tickets for the Olympic Games, so fans will be on the hunt for the best deals on travel and accommodation. The ASA has highlighted that when advertising travel or accommodation for the Olympic Games (BCAP Code and CAP Code section 3):

  1. pricing must be clear and transparent;
  2. availability not overstated; and
  3. descriptions of locations must be honest.

If running a competition or travel promotion (BCAP Code section 28; CAP Code section 8):

  • the benefits should not be exaggerated;
  • exceptions and limitations of any prizes must be made obvious to the consumer; and
  • the promotion should be competently administered, with clarity on how the winner will be selected, notified and awarded the prize.

Betting ads and promotions

With 329 events across 19 days, the Olympic Games provide betting companies a great opportunity to offer unique promotional offers on a wide variety of sporting activities. However, in recent times the ASA has heavily scrutinised gambling ads featuring sports personalities.

The ASA guidance reminds advertisers that if you are advertising a betting promotional offer, you must avoid misleading customers by ensuring all significant conditions are explained upfront (BCAP Code section 17; CAP Code section 16). The ASA referred to a ruling it made against Unibet in 2015, where ads for a “risk-free bet” were in breach of the rules. Consumers were not informed that any refund on losing bets would be in the form of a bonus or credit rather than cash, or that they would have to place more bets at specified odds. Although this information could be found in the T&Cs, it was not mentioned in the Facebook posts, and consumers were subject to significant T&Cs which were more than one click away.

The Olympics is likely to have a large under 18 audience, so it is important to remember that the codes prohibit anyone under the age of 25 from appearing in gambling ads (BCAP Code 17.4.6; CAP Code 16.3.14). For example, the ASA found that an email ad showing footballer Memphis Depay, who was under the age of 25, seated on a football pitch breached the CAP Code.

Gambling ads also must not be directed at or appeal to children (BCAP Code 17.4.5; CAP Code 16.3.12). The ASA referenced its ruling in which the website of Geo 24 Ltd displayed cartoon graphics featuring a pirate with sunglasses and a gem-studded beard, along with a goat adorned with gold teeth and a chain around its neck. The promotion titled ‘GoldBeard’s Booty Pirates Join Da Crew & Find Ye Fortune’ was found to likely appeal to under 18s, as the characters resembled those from children’s programming and popular culture. The promotion was subsequently removed from the website.

Therefore, businesses will need to take care this summer with any gambling ads and, in particular, should:

  • avoid using high-profile athletes with a significant under 18 following (see our recent MediaWrites article on an ASA ruling in relation to this);
  • avoid themes associated with youth culture; and
  • not use any athlete below the age of 25 in an ad.

Avoid causing offence

Approximately 10,500 athletes from 206 National Olympic Committees will compete at the Olympics this year, resulting in a diverse representation of religions and backgrounds at the event, each with varying tolerance levels and belief systems.

Due to the adversarial nature of the Olympics, it is tempting to include imagery of competing nations in ads. Whilst this may be an effective marketing tool, the ASA guidance highlights that communications must not cause serious or widespread offence and special care must be taken to avoid causing offence on the grounds of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability, and age (BCAP Code and CAP Code 4.1).

Businesses may also want to produce ads quickly in response to controversial events. However, the ASA guidance reminds businesses to pause and consider whether the ad might provoke a negative response before publishing. Handling sensitive topics like religion or cultural stereotypes requires careful consideration, especially in such a diverse event. If a business decides to advertise something that is likely to cause serious or widespread offence, the ASA will consider the medium in which the ad has appeared, so targeting ads appropriately is crucial (but note that even if careful targeting is executed to try and avoid causing offence, the ASA has determined that some ads are unlikely to be acceptable in any media due to their content).

The ASA does note that light-hearted ads may be acceptable, but again, it’s a fine line. A short-term rise in attention may not be worth the potential reputational damage in the long term.

Using Olympic and team property

Although not specifically referenced by the ASA guidance, businesses will also need to be careful when using or referring to the property of the Olympics or any participating team across marketing materials in and around the Olympic Games:

  1. The IOC has numerous trade mark registrations globally protecting its Olympic property and the Paris local organising committee will also have registered trade marks (e.g. ‘Paris 2024’) and other graphics and designs (e.g. mascots and pictograms). Care will therefore need to be taken to avoid any risk of trade mark or copyright infringement and use of any registered marks or other specific Paris 2024 graphics/designs should be avoided.
  2. Businesses will need to ensure that any advertising does not create a false impression of a connection between the brand and the Olympics or a team, or they could be at risk of a claim in ‘passing off’ which is a tool used by event organisers to try and tackle advertisers that they believe are ambush marketing their event.
  3. In the UK, the Olympic Symbol (Protection) Act 1995 was implemented to combat advertisers using Olympic symbols and terminology, without permission, including: (a) Olympic symbols and mottos; (b) the words ‘Olympic(s),’ ‘Paralympic(s),’ ‘Olympian(s),’ ‘Paralympian(s),’ ‘Olympiad(s),’ and ‘Paralympiad(s)’; and (c) any similar words and/or symbols that are likely to create an association in the minds of the public. Unlicensed use of such trade marks may constitute infringement, and the British Olympic Association (“BOA”) and British Paralympic Association are granted rights that allow them to bring civil actions against potential infringers.
  4. If a business is a sponsor of an individual athlete competing in Paris this summer (and not an official Olympic sponsor), it will need to comply with Rule 40 of the Olympic Charter which effectively limits what a sponsor is permitted to do during the ‘Games Period’ (18th July – 13th August). The BOA has set out some useful guidelines that need to be followed.

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