Coordinating Marketing with Big Events: Avoid Trademark Issues

There’s a lot of marketing power in riding on the coattails of popular events. Having a restaurant in the vicinity of the stadium or theater and promoting your business alongside with that of the big event can be helpful for both interests. Avoid the risks however.

The Super Bowl Trademark

Super Bowl Sunday offers terrific marketing opportunities but be sure not to infringe on the trademark. As the most-watched American event with an average audience of more than 100 million viewers, it has become the focus of parties in public restaurants, neighborhood homes, and church halls. Every year the NFL enforces their copyright on the name and threatens to sue to protect their interest. Stories like this one about a church in 2010 are common.

There is an easy way to sidestep problems. Instead of using the word “Super Bowl”, refer to it in a generic way — such as “The Big Game”. Everyone will know what you are talking about and you will not be placing yourself in legal jeopardy. To avoid fines, associated events are also promoted using “your football headquarters” or “gameday.” (“Super Sunday” is off limits because it is also trademarked.)

You should also be careful in how you use the term NFL.  Any wording that might imply that you are an NFL Sponsor — when you are not– could get you into legal issues.

If you are a retail store that sells televisions, that means you can’t use a headline such as : “Get your TV now to watch the Super Bowl”.

The Super Bowl is not the only protected brand that offers marketing opportunities but needs to be carefully handled by businesses and nonprofits. Many major events, celebrities, and products are similar. Associating your product, service or activity with them allows you to capitalize on the marketing they are doing. Just be sensible.

Be Careful About Using the Word “Olympics.”

Groups wanting to celebrate in association with the upcoming Olympic games need to be equally cautious. As we described in the suggestions on the promotional calendar , marketing in coordination with the Summer or Winter Olympics can be very powerful but don’t step on the coattails you are riding. The Olympic Organizing Committee is very sensitive to infringements and even generic Olympic-like events can get caught in the net.

That means you can not use the Olympic “rings” in your marketing (unless you are an Olympic sponsor).

I recommend that you look for ways to associate yourself with popular activities but do not undermine or steal returns they have earned. Anticipate and research copyrights and respect the limits they impose.

Ride But Don’t Step on Coattails

Some trademark vigilance seems overly enthusiastic as Freakonomics explains in this blog post about the 2012 Summer Olympics .  When they go beyond vigilance in protecting their brand, suggesting that can provide a little humor and even help you market yourself.

Take the time to consider the opportunities and pitfalls of coattail riding as you plan your marketing.

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