Federal court dismisses AOC case against Telstra advertising

Australian Olympic Commission ordered to pay costs for legal action against the telco accusing it of misleading advertising

The Federal Court has dismissed the Australian Olympic Committee’s (AOC) action against Telstra for misleading advertising relating to the 2016 Rio Games.

The AOC took legal action against Telstra following a campaign launched earlier in July by the telco promoting its support of the Channel Seven Olympics App. The campaign used a modern version of the Peter Allen classic tune, ‘I Go To Rio’, and initially featured the line official technology partners’ for the Seven Olympic Games broadcast.

This line was amended by Telstra within days of the campaign’s launch after the AOC expressed concerns about the way Telstra was presenting its association with the 2016 games after cutting ties as an official sponsor of the games last year.

In a judgement passed down on 29 July, presiding Judge, Justice Wigney, dismissed the AOC’s application and ordered the AOC pay Telstra’s court costs.

The AOC had contended Telstra’s advertisements, which stretched across TVCs, online and other forms of advertising, contravened either or both section 18 or 29(g) and (h) of the Australian Consumer Law, relating to misleading and deceptive conduct.

While agreeing Telstra had potentially “pushed the envelope as far as it could” with regards to its associating with Olympic fervour and spirit, the judge did not agree the telco's advertising efforts had contravened either of those consumer laws, or the related section 36 of the OIP (Olympics Insignia Protection) Act.

“The central question in resolving this dispute is this: Do the Telstra promotions and advertisements suggest to a reasonable person that Telstra is a sponsor of, or provided sponsor-like support to, bodes and teams association with the Rio Olympic Games?” Justice Wigney asked. “Or do they simply suggest that Telstra sponsors Seven’s broadcast of the Rio Olympic Games and promote the ability of Telstra customers to access the premium version of Seven’s Olympics on 7 app?”

The judge concluded the Rio TVC and marketing material would not suggest to a reasonable person that Telstra was a sponsor of, or provided sponsorship-like support, to any Olympic body. While agreeing the original Rio TVC could be perceived as “borderline”, subsequent revisions were adequate in meeting any guidelines, he stated.

“The marketing brief revealed that Telstra wanted to be associated in some way with the Olympics: It wanted to create an overarching ‘brand idea’ and ‘platform that brings to life Telstra’s brand positioning of ‘empowering people to thrive in the connected world’ through the context of sports and the Olympic Games,” Justice Wigney stated.

“Equally, however, the material revealed that Telstra well understood that, because it was not a sponsor, there were limits to what it could say or imply.

“On balance, the marketing material does not show that Telstra deliberately set about implying something which it knew it could not lawfully imply. It is fairly clear, however, that Telstra wished to push the envelope as far as it could.”

Judge Wigney’s overall conclusion was in favour of Telstra.

“None of the advertisements, videos, catalogues, emails of online materials, or other marketing or promotional materials that employ the Olympic expressions, would suggest to a reasonable person, that Telstra is or was a sponsor of, or is or was the provider of, sponsorship-like support to any relevant Olympic claim,” he stated.

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