London 2012 Watch: Nike Flips the Bird to Olympics Brand Police

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God help the poor Pepsi-loving soul who wanders through London over the next few weeks. The dreaded brand police are swarming the country in search of any signs of anyone mentioning or attempting to showcase any corporate entity that is a competitor to the official Olympics sponsors, and anyone who even so much as thinks of sponsor Coke’s biggest competitor should fear the consequences. But that’s nothing compared to what Nike is staging: the brashest act of ambush marketing in the history of the Olympics Games. And we’ll bet they get away with it because, well, it’s Nike.[more]

Just the concept of a batallion of brand police looking to stamp out non-official Olympics marketing seems like it is right out of some kind of arch British comedy, but nay, nay, Nanette: LOCOG and the IOC are serious in their quest to rout out ambush marketing that piggybacks on official brand partners’ efforts or appropriates Olympics branding such as the Games’ iconic five-ring logo.

It has resulted in a series of swipes at small businesses that don’t have the clout of the mighty swoosh, such as the butcher who had to remove a bunch of sausages made to look like the Olympic rings, a shop forced to take down the bras and mannequins that did the same, or the small florist’s shop ordered to crumple up a tissue-paper ode to the Olympic rings hanging in a window display. So much for boosting the economy and instilling pride in locals and visitors.

Who’s standing up to the Olympic branding czars? Nike, which has “practiced this dark art (of ambush marketing) with more verve and success than” any other player on the field. Nike’s new “Find Your Greatness” campaign (theme: “Does greatness get handed out?”) that launches today riffs on the London games — where rival Adidas is an official sponsor — while diminishing them and elevating everyday athletes. The centerpiece of its 2012 Make It Count global marketing platform, it’s a very slick, deadly sly swipe at the IOC and LOCOG branding and sponsorship rules.

The theme of “Find Your Greatness” is summed up in the description to its signature one-minute video above (there’s more where that came from, below):

Somehow we’ve come to believe that greatness is only for the chosen few, for the superstars. The truth is, greatness is for us all. This is not about lowering expectations; it’s about raising them for every last one of us. Greatness is not in one special place, and it’s not in one special person. Greatness is wherever somebody is trying to find it. Find your greatness.

As Nike’s press release notes,

The centerpiece of the campaign is a “Find Your Greatness” film that breaks through social media and digital channels on July 25, supported by a global YouTube homepage promotion on July 26. The campaign is elevated by a global Twitter #findgreatness promoted hashtag to ignite conversation around how athletes everywhere find their own greatness. The film will then appear on TV in 25 countries on July 27.

As “Find Your Greatness” seeks to inspire everyone in their own personal achievements, Nike+ Running, Nike+ Basketball, Nike+ Training and the Nike+ Fuelband are the tools that enable everyday athletes everywhere to measure their performance and motivate themselves to do more. The Nike+ digital ecosystem has over 8.5 million members globally, and Nike is creating a series of digital missions through Nike+ to motivate people, including a “Greatness is Ours” mission that aims to make August 12 the most active recorded day ever through Nike+.

People who engage in the missions will be encouraged to share their activity and achievements through social media and this will then be displayed on the Nike+ Fuelstream — a dynamic online stream of imagery and consumer comments. They will also be elevated through Nike’s own social channels @nike, @niketraining, @nikerunning, @nikebasketball, which will encourage users with @ replies and motivation, and ultimately help stimulate and drive users to achieve their greatness. The hub for this is nike.com/gameonworld – a motivational online destination to share progress and success through a series of tools and digital services designed to make every athlete better.

It’s all very inspiring and celebratory of the pinnacle of human achievement and evocative of the spirit of the Olympics. Aha! Cheeky Nike, we see what you’re doing: taking a page from the great Broadway producer David Merrick, who would find regular folks who happened to have the same names as famed theater critics and use their quotes in ads for his shows. Even if a show was complete sludge, Merrick could find someone conveniently named to say otherwise. So Nike’s Find Your Greatness campaign features amateur athletes from across the globe in towns that happen to have the name London. To add to the fun, the narrator has a British accent. How are you going to stop that, British Parliament?

As Nike spokesman Charlie Brooks tells the New York Times, “greatness doesn’t just happen in the stadiums of London. We’re saying that greatness can be anywhere for anyone and you can achieve it on your own terms.”

The entire series of Nike “Find Your Greatness” videos has been posted on YouTube, beautifully shot by W+K London and well worth watching. They pay tribute to Olympic (and non-Olympic) sports with amateurs in alt London settings: gymnastics, soccer, wheelchair racing, basketballwushu, handstands, water polo, “skate,” sepak takraw, boxing, pogo, ultrarunning, BMX, weightlifting, marathon, diving, baseball, and rugby.

If you watch only one, watch Nathan, 12, “from London, Ohio”:

Of course, with all the law-making and fine threatening and brand policing going on, the London 2012 Olympics organizers have made it abundantly clear that it doesn’t matter who is doing the ambushing, their purple-clad brand police are ready to crack some skulls.

The NYT notes how the IOC has felt compelled to protect its sponsors by imposing “ever more stringent rules to keep corporate crashers away from the party. No city has drafted broader and more robust rules than the London Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, which, with an assist from the British Parliament, criminalized the most egregious ambush tactics and made lesser offenses punishable with fines of $30,000 or more.”

One group that isn’t interested in playing by London’s rules are the British artists who have created a “collective anti-ad effort called Brandalism,” according to Fast Company‘s FastCo. Its latest effort is a billboard in East London that showcases “police officers in formation with the ripped Olympics tagline ‘Inspire a Generation’ up for an ulterior interpretation.” And even though there is a ban on protests, the Brandalism crew plans to go right ahead and hit the streets on Saturday by marching in what’s being dubbed the Official Protest.

The muckraking, brandhacking posters by Britain’s street artists are being taken down as quickly as they’re going up, apparently — which threatens Banksy’s contributions to the movement including this work:

Also ready to fight back is specialist (and rabblerousing) wine retailer Oddbins, which “has called on small businesses to find creative ways to circumvent the ‘legal straitjacket’ surrounding the Olympics, and has developed its own off-the-wall marketing push,” according to Harpers.

In addition to window displays in all of its 35 stores that are barely within the brand police rules, Oddbins is offering a 30% discount to any customer who is “wearing Nike [not Adidas] trainers and has in their pocket a set of Vauxhall [not BMW] car keys, an RBS [not Visa] MasterCard, an iPhone [not a Samsung smartphone], a bill from British Gas [not EDF] and a receipt for a Pepsi [not Coke] bought at KFC [not McDonald’s].”

Meanwhile, even merchants who have been given the OK to be involved with the Games are still trying to puzzle out the rules. Eleven Olympics soccer matches will be held in Cardiff, Wales, where retailers that had been approved to be part of the merchant zone around the stadium still aren’t clear on what they can and can’t do, according to Wales Online. LOCOG’s branding enforcement officers aren’t just wandering through the official zone but also entering Cardiff bars and restaurants along with shops in the general area just to be sure nobody is stepping over the line, the site reports.

With all these rules against unlawful use of Olympic names and symbols, though, the Independent is wondering if the Prime Minister is going to get into any kind of trouble. After all, 10 Downing Street has planted a flower bed with the Olympic rings. You just watch that David Cameron try and sneak a Nike pin onto his jacket.

One brand keeping above the ambush marketing fray: Apple, by one estimate the only brand worth more than the Olympics. The kicker: the London 2012 Games declined to go after Nike for ambush marketing because the campaign doesn’t mention the Olympics by name.

Below, check out how Nike also pipped the London Olympics by having thousands of Nike+ runners hit London’s streets to log the British 10K race on July 8th — and seeded “Find Your Greatness” with marathoner video profiles:

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