The Truth About The Branding Of The Games

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Visa has defended its exclusive Olympic sponsorship which means other cardholders will be denied access to cash machines at Games venues.

In an exclusive interview with Sky News, Visa's chief marketing officer in Europe (Chicago Options: ^REURUSD - news) , Mariano Dima, said: "If the sponsors are not there to support the Games, the money will have to come from local funding, or there will be a much smaller Games."

The only method of buying Olympic tickets is by Visa card, but Mr Dima denied that the Olympics' official partner had created a negative image for themselves with a heavy handed approach.

"We want to drive more transactions through a Visa card," he said.

"That's why we sponsor this, and that's why we can afford to drive this sponsorship. 

"There are tens of thousands of ATMs around London that people can take money from in any part of London before coming to the Olympic Park."

Sky News asked a company which monitors social media to find out how Visa had ended up paying millions of pounds only to achieve negative publicity.

But Brandwatch discovered that only 25% of online comment about the brand was negative, compared to 28% which was positive. The rest were neutral.

Brandwatch put that down to Visa having a strong presence on social media sites such as Facebook, and because many people did not think having Visa only cash machines would be an inconvenience.

By contrast, Brandwatch found that other Olympic sponsors had a much more negative image.

The chemical company Dow (NYSE: DPD - news) helped pay for the plastic wrap which envelops the Olympic Stadium, but for many people the company is inextricably linked with the Bhopal gas accident in India in 1984. 

According to Brandwatch, 92% of sentiment online relating to Dow was negative, while the Dutch brewer Heineken (EUREX: HNKF.EX - news) had an 81% negative score.

Brandwatch's Gareth Ham said: "We've seen a lot of conversations about the perception of raised pricing due to this perceived monopoly that Heineken will have.

"A lot of tweeters, for example, seem to be complaining that they would like to see a British brand as the beer provider for the Olympic Games."

The rules on sponsorship have prompted both anger and derision. 

McDonalds is the only food provider to be allowed to sell chips at Olympic sites, unless they're sold with fish - dispensation was given because it's the national dish. 

Venues which normally host other sporting events and were not built specifically for the Games have had to be "debranded", with all traces of rival companies removed or covered up.

Sky News filmed at the Ricoh Arena, which has had to be renamed The City of Coventry stadium for the Olympics.

The Japanese electronics firm has a long-term naming-rights deal at the stadium, but all of its logos have been erased.

Black seats which spell out the Ricoh (Frankfurt: 854279 - news) name in the main stand have been covered up, and masking tape has been stuck over beer and soft drinks signs in the concourse where food and drink is sold.

Black tape has even covered up the soap dispensers in the toilets.

The London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (LOCOG) raised £700m from sponsors.

Sir John Armitt, chairman of the Olympic Delivery Authority, told Sky News: "If you didn't have that £700m it would have to come from somewhere else, probably the taxpayer.

"It is very important to get this very significant sponsorship from big companies, but when they're putting in that amount of money, quite rightly they want something in return.

"They want that association with the brand."

Companies also want to stop commercial rivals attempting to cash in on the popularity of the Olympics, so legislation was introduced to ban unauthorised use of combinations of words which could lead the public to conclude that firms were connected with the Games.

'London', '2012', 'Summer', 'Gold', 'Silver' and 'Bronze' are among those defined as being protected.

And since 1995 there has been legislation to protect the Olympic logo.

Paul Jordan, a lawyer that advises companies on the regulations, said: "In many respects there isn't a more iconic, high-profile brand or trademark on the planet and therefore you can see why LOCOG are being particularly tough and threatening enforcement when it comes to the rings."

But threats, and the perception of a heavy handed approach, has drawn criticism from those who just want to get into the Olympic spirit - especially businesses along the route of the torch relay.

And even ordinary members of the public have felt threatened by the rules.

Muriel Butler, 90, knitted a set of athletes, complete with the Olympic ring, and planned to put them on display in a craft shop in the Norfolk town of Fakenham, before raffling them for charity.

But after friends heard about the strict rules, they decided to cover up the display when the torch relay arrived in the town.

Muriel was bemused: "That seemed ridiculous to me really. Never mind, I suppose that's what they want."

"I just don't understand why they cut things out like that. I wish I'd never started the things."  

Her daughter, Jill Baker-Toplis, was angry. "I thought it was absolutely disgraceful.

"We're all worried here that we're going to get sued because we've got Olympics mentioned in the window."

In fact, LOCOG has not prosecuted anyone for breaching the rules. And some observers think their pre-Games warnings were designed to deter anyone, without having to take court action. 

But trading standards officers have used consumer protection laws to prosecute those selling fake Olympic goods.

The sponsors don't get everything their own way. 

None of them are allowed to advertise around the perimeter of venues, which means that the only brand seen by TV cameras and hundreds of millions of viewers is the Olympic logo.

Visa's Mr Dima added: "The sponsors are working behind the scenes and building the infrastructure to enable the athletes and the rings to be the heroes. 

"And that's why the Olympics is so attractive. You don't need to put the logo in every place - the focus is the athletes and the spirit of the games."