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Avoid marketing own goals this summer

The 2018 World Cup is to shortly kick off in Russia. Amidst the excitement, it is important to remember a few key dos and don'ts for any planned football related marketing campaigns.

With a global audience of more than 3 billion, it will be tempting to capitalise on the football fever with themed marketing campaigns.  Official partners have paid significant sums for the opportunity to speak to this mass audience and have their brand associated with the tournament.  Understandably, these sponsors and, organisers, FIFA will be concerned that any unofficial advertising by other businesses could undermine their investment. 

If you are considering a marketing strategy around this event (and are not an official partner/sponsor) you will need to consider your plans as against FIFA's intellectual property, their trade marks and copyright in particular.  FIFA has helpfully issued brand guidelines.  These are not legally binding but they provide some guidance as to what FIFA considers to be off side.

We set out below some of the key do's and don'ts that you should consider in relation to your promotional activities surrounding this sporting event.

Key legal rights to consider

The tournament is a branded business with FIFA owning marks such as “FIFA”, “World Cup”, “Russia 2018” and the Magic Ball device. Other marks to consider include tournament and national team logos. 

There are limited circumstances where use of the registered marks will not constitute an infringement and these will include editorial or non-commercial use.  So most commercial use, which risks linking a non-sponsoring entity with the World Cup or taking advantage of the World Cup's reputation, poses an infringement risk.  

FIFA also claims copyright in many of its materials including, for example, the font of RUSSIA 2018, the “Magic Ball”, official posters and the trophy itself, as well as many more traditionally recognised protected materials such as photos or written content on its website.

There are of course risks in using these materials, whether owned by FIFA or other entities.  Using video highlights or photos without consent is likely to infringe copyright, so getting permission from the copyright owner is recommended.  For written content, short quotations may often be used without permission, but whether or not such use infringes depends on factors such as the quality and/or quantity of the short quotation.

Specific risk areas

Social Media

Use of hashtags that include trade marks such as #Russia2018 can increase impressions or drive traffic to your social media pages. However that use may take unfair advantage of the World Cup trade marks or create confusion as to your relationship with FIFA and, if so, will infringe.

If you are using images or video clips within your social media posts, make sure you have permission to share them.

FIFA’s guidelines do not permit retweeting/sharing of its official content by businesses for commercial purposes and so FIFA may apply to take down your retweet or post and you may lose important engagement with your brand’s followers.

Competitions and Prize draws

Offering match tickets as competition prizes or at auctions should be avoided.As well as confronting FIFA's guidelines against such use for claimed infringement reasons, it may be a breach of the ticket terms and conditions which state that they are non-transferable and not to be used for advertising or promotion.

Any other World Cup-themed competitions that suggest a connection or take advantage of the tournament’s reputation through use of FIFA's materials and brands may also fall on the wrong side of the line.

Public Screenings and Decoration of Premises

If you want to screen matches at your premises or host a screening for customers or clients, make sure you have appropriate licences in place.  If you are hosting an event of any sort and want to decorate premises, don’t use the official logos or copyright material (e.g. photographs) without permission.

So what can you do?

Get creative! If, for example, you are screening matches (and appropriately licensed), then promote your screening through use of generic themes such as footballs, national flags, St Basil’s Cathedral, Cyrillic-style text, and other Russian cultural icons.These are likely to be acceptable, as long as they don’t create an impression of a connection between you and the World Cup/FIFA. Continuing on the creative theme, campaigns that allude to Russia and/or football may capture the spirit of the tournament without infringing.

Be quick to respond to specific incidents for providing inspiration.For example, after Luis Suarez’s infamous biting of Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini in the last World Cup, Snickers posted a clever tweet with the caption “More satisfying than Italian” to advertise its chocolate bar.This gained over 38m impressions on Twitter and significant media coverage.

Always make sure you have permission to use any relevant images

Please contact us if you wish to discuss the impact of this update on your business or wish to seek advice on any points raised in this update.

This publication is intended for general guidance and represents our understanding of the relevant law and practice as at May 2018. Specific advice should be sought for specific cases. For more information see our terms & conditions.

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