COC accuses Budweiser of Olympic ambush

February 10, 2014  |  Russ Martin  |  Comments

Having just filed a trademark lawsuit against North Face, the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) is turning its legal gaze on Budweiser Canada.

The COC has expressed concerns that Budweiser’s latest Red Light ad – which features the brand’s two-storey branded air ship – piggy backs on the Olympics. Neither the brand nor parent company Labatt Brewing Co. are an official sponsor of the games in Canada.

The ad in question features a scene that takes place in Russia in which a group of people watch Team Canada score on Russia during a hockey game. The COC is also concerned about Red Zeppelin, the 21-by-7-metre blimp that Budweiser is flying over Canadian cities and lighting up when Team Canada scores.

In an e-mail to the Globe and Mail, COC chief executive officer Chris Overholt said, “We do not accept ambush marketing, we don’t think it is right, and we think Canadian consumers have a right to know who those Canadian corporations are who have stepped up with financial support that goes directly to support the Sochi Canadian Olympic Team.”

• Canadian Olympic Committee files trademark lawsuit against North Face

While the COC believes the Red Light campaign attempts to associate itself with the Olympics, Michaela Charette, brand director of Budweiser in Canada, told Marketing last week that the campaign was crafted to continue Budweiser’s association with hockey in Canada, rather than a particular team or league. Though the Red Zeppelin will be used for promotion during the Olympics, she stressed that the brand will continue to use it “through June” as hockey season continues.

All of Budweiser’s Red Light marketing materials, from its YouTube videos to, carry fine print stating that Budweiser is not an official sponsor of either the Olympics or the NHL.

The statement reads, “Budweiser is not an official sponsor of the Olympic Games, the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games, Hockey Canada or the Canadian Olympic Committee and this product is not licensed by, sponsored by, or otherwise associated with those parties. Budweiser is not an official sponsor of the NHL™ or any other hockey league and this product is not licensed by, sponsored by, or otherwise associated with the National Hockey League™, any other hockey league, or any of their respective member teams.”

Kyle Norrington, marketing director of Labatt Breweries of Canada, likewise told Marketing Monday that the brand has gone out of its way, “to make it clear that Budweiser Red Lights are not related to any one league or event.”

Those moves may be enough to protect Budweiser in court, but the tactics it has taken rubbed many in the sponsorship industry the wrong way, including one Marketing reader who commented anonymously on our previous coverage of the campaign.

“Moves like this one by Budweiser are absolutely going to haunt the sponsorship industry in Canada. Properties like COC, NHL, or even Bud’s partners like NFL and UFC are going to command a lot less money in the future if their rights aren’t protected.”

Though the COC has expressed its views on the matter, it has yet to officially take any legal action.

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