A full-on ambush campaign at the Winter Olympics saw trendy Vancouver yoga-gear company Lululemon launched a special edition line of outdoor winter clothing called “Cool sporting event that takes place in British Columbia between 2009 & 2011 Edition’.
The hooded sweatshirts, tuques and T-shirts went on sale two months before the Games began.
The Canadian retailer was publicly criticised for the collection by the IOC and the head of commercial rights the VANOC organising committee, but it was not prosecuted.
“We expected better sportsmanship from a local Canadian company than to produce a clothing line that attempts to profit from the Games but doesn’t support the Games or the success of the Canadian Olympic team,” said Bill Cooper, director of commercial rights management for the Olympic organizing committee. “We see the collection and the marketing activities around the collection as both disappointing and posing significant risk of inflicting harm on the Games. They have done a lot of homework to avoid strict repercussions under the letter of the law. That’s a large part of what we find disappointing, that the only standards they held themselves to was the letter of the law.”
VANOC has exclusive Canadian marketing rights to Olympic brands meaning that only official, paying sponsors are allowed to market products under the brand. And genuine Olympics merchandiser was official sponsor The Hudson’s Bay Company.
In fact, Lululemon had bid in the past to be the official outfitter of Canada’s Olympic team, but lost to Hudson’s Bay. In its defence, Lululemon insisted the clothing line is about patriotism and not ambush marketing ahead of the Olympics.
The retail brand has a history of cheeky marketing campaigns and most of its success is based on viral marketing. One of the retailer’s most memorable stunts was when it offered a free outfit to the first 30 people who showed up naked to a new store opening in 2002. It has also poked fun at itself by spray-painting “sell-out,” “cult” and other graffiti on its storefront windows.
Lawyers are increasingly part of the planning campaign for non official sponsors. This seems an archetypical example of a brand that has studied Olympic legislation carefully enough to avoid prosecution. A crime or just clever marketing?