Olympics 2012: Drop that logo! Brand patrol on guard

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LONDON (AP) — Perhaps we should have seen this coming.

Back in 2007, a butcher at the Fantastic Sausage Factory in the quaint English county of Dorset was told to remove a window sign depicting sausage meat twisted into the shape of the the five Olympic rings.

And last year, competitors in a baking contest in bucolic Shropshire were warned by games organizers to drop plans to place Olympic-themed marzipan figurines atop their cakes.

But those were merely preliminary skirmishes in a multibillion-dollar sponsorship battle that has drawn charges that London organizers have been heavy-handed, and just plain stupid, in their zealous enforcement of branding restrictions.

“The rules were intended to stop the big brands from getting a free ride on the Olympic good will,” said Michael Payne, a former IOC marketing director who now works as a consultant.

“They were never designed nor intended to suffocate the genuine local community spirit — the florist putting up a bouquet of flowers, or the butcher doing a sign with olympic rings.”

He blamed London organizers for creating outrage that will only boomerang on the very sponsors they seek to protect.

“You want to be balanced and intelligent … but the agenda got hjijacked by the lawyers who were painting everything as black and white, when it needed to be applied in shades of gray.”

Private Eye, Britain’s spoof political magazine, captured the organizers’ somewhat maniacal focus on brand protection best with its cover this week, which depicted two machine-gun wielding policemen outside Olympic Stadium warning a fan to “put down the Pepsi can and no one will get hurt.”

As you can probably guess, Coke is the official soft drink of the games.

Just a sampling of the more bizarre examples from Olympic venues this week:

Pimms, that quintessentially English liqueur, cannot be listed on any menus during the games, even at Wimbledon, where tennis is taking place and where Pimms is as traditional as strawberries and cream. The gin-based drink, which is not an Olympic sponsor, is instead being referred to as “No. 1 Cup.”

And the Goodyear Blimp, ubiquitous at sporting events around the globe, has been stripped of any corporate reference, prompting more than a few double-takes from sky-gazing fans.

Some journalists have been surprised to see Olympic workers taping over the logos on their Dell and Apple computers, since neither company is bankrolling the games, and the U.S. women’s soccer team has been told not to hand out its media guide because it has 12 small logos of its sponsors — which are not official Olympics 2012 backers.

Even brand names of non-sponsors at Olympic Park bathrooms have been covered, though after a few days of competition some fans answering nature’s call have started taking a mischievous pleasure in peeling the toilet tape back.

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