Euro 2020 marketing tips: avoiding a penalty

Posted on 9 June 2021

UEFA Euro 2020 is finally set to kick off this week, a year later than originally anticipated.

For brands planning to take advantage of football fever in their advertising, some tactical know-how may assist  in both avoiding receiving a red card from UEFA and/or the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and preventing reputational harm from adverse publicity this summer.

Here are three top tips to help brands stay onside:

Avoid false endorsements and IP infringements

Big sporting events are a great way of getting involved in the conversation and promoting a brand. However it is important to ensure that advertising does not mislead people into thinking there is a connection between the brand advertised and the event, when there is none. Falsely implying official endorsement by the tournament, national teams or players can result in claims for IP infringement, passing off and is also a likely breach of the advertising Codes.

UEFA, the tournament organisers, owns a number of rights, including registered trade marks for the tournament name and logos (which they have not been rebranded despite the tournament taking place a year later), together with a range of registered and unregistered designs and copyright subsisting in works such as posters, emblems and mascots.

Official sponsors have paid huge sums to UEFA for exclusive rights to use UEFA's intellectual property and to use the tournament as a vehicle to market their brand. To justify the kind of fees paid, UEFA is likely to police the use of its IP and prevent those who are not official sponsors from riding on the coattails of those that are.

Brands which are not official sponsors should therefore avoid engaging in promotional activities which imply a commercial association with the tournament, including in their social media posts. Social media is an essential platform, but remember it is also a form of advertising that needs to comply with IP and advertising laws and rules. Even hashtags or re-posting of content related to the tournament or a national team could present a scenario in which UEFA or the national team would look to take action.

Likewise, brands should take caution when deciding whether to feature any individual players within their advertising – just like with the tournament itself, brands should not suggest that they have an official partnership or collaboration with those players.

However, there is still much marketers can do to leverage off of the tournament in their advertising, provided they think smartly and creatively. A minor nod to the tournament which doesn’t include the use of UEFA's registered trade marks is unlikely to present any major risk - this could be done through the use of generic references to football themes, generic football imagery, team colours and emojis.

Watch for opportunities but do not cause offense

There have been many instances in previous tournaments where brands have grasped opportunities with their advertising – with mixed results. 

In one extreme case, during the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, Bavaria Beer recruited a group of 36 women to attend a game between Holland and Denmark wearing promotional orange dresses available from Bavaria. The cameras picked up on this large group of identically clothed women. This caused huge controversy and was later coined 'Beergate' when it emerged that ITV pundit Robbie Earle had sold 50 tickets to Bavaria so it could do the stunt. Bavaria was not an official sponsor and were accused of ambush marketing, but of course by this point they had succeeded in getting some prime time advertising.

In the Brazil 2014 World Cup, companies saw that they could use their social platforms to exploit key moments in the tournament to their advantage. For example, Specsavers and Peperami posted quite humorous memes when Louis Suarez appeared to bite the shoulder of Italian player Giorgio Chiellini during a game.

In the World Cup in Russia in 2018, Danish beer brand Carlsberg looked to win over fans in the host country by creating beer with the texture of caviar, and Ikea developed a set of couches which allows a household occupant to turn their back on the TV acknowledging that the tournament can divide a living room.

There are many ways to leverage off a major tournament like Euro 2020. Whilst it is important for brands to act quickly to seize on a particular moment in a tournament, marketers should pause to consider whether a particular ad could cause serious or widespread offence. Humour is not a catch-all defence and the tone of an ad sometimes does make a difference. For example, with so many different countries playing at Euro 2020, there are many cultures and religions represented. Brands should be aware that racial, cultural or national stereotypes are currently a hot topic at the ASA. CAP and BCAP recently announced the launch of a consultation on the introduction of new rules on harm and protected characteristics and a call for evidence on racial and ethnic stereotyping in advertising.

Do not feature young players in gambling and alcohol ads

Gareth Southgate's England squad has an average age of 24.8 years this summer. The Spanish and Turkish teams have an even younger group of players. With so many young players in the spotlight at Euro 2020, it’s important for brands to remember that the ASA Code prohibits anyone under the age of 25 from appearing in most gambling ads. Like gambling, there are also a number of age-specific rules that apply to alcohol advertising - in particular, they cannot be directed at or reflect the culture of under-18s, nor can under-25s be shown playing a significant role.

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