Australian Olympic Committee takes Telstra to court over misleading advertising

Association says the telco's ads linking the brand to the 2016 Olympic Games are misleading consumers

Telstra is being taken to court by the Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) after the telco launched what many see as a guerrilla marketing campaign linking its brand to the 2016 Games in 2016.

The campaign, which launched earlier this month, was focused on promoting the Channel Seven Olympics App and used a modern version of the Peter Allen classic, ‘I go to Rio’. The campaign also initially featured the line ‘official technology partner’ for the Seven Olympics Games broadcast.

Within days of launching, the campaign was adjusted by Telstra and a statement added to clarify its unofficial status with the AOC after the latter raised legal concerns about the way the advertisements positioned the telco.

Telstra was official partner to the AOC until 2015, when the pair parted ways. In December, rival telco, Optus, inked a 10-year agreement with the association to be the official telecommunications partner until 2026.

The AOC lodged official legal action through the Australian Federal Court on Friday afternoon. In a statement, the association said it felt it was necessary to uphold the rights of official sponsors for this year’s games.

“The Australian Olympic Committee relies on commercial partners to fund the Olympic Teams that represent our country at the Olympic Games, Olympic Winter Games and Youth Olympic Games,” the AOC statement read. “Without them, we would not be in a position to send 410 athletes to the Olympic Games in Rio.

“Commercial partners also help the AOC promote Olympic values and programs throughout the country on a year-round basis. Unfortunately, some companies try to mislead the Australian public into believing they support the Australian Olympic Team or have an involvement with the Olympic movement when they don’t.”

The AOC said the ads were a clear attempt to mislead consumers about Telstra’s association with the 2016 Olympics team. It also stated firmly that Telstra is not a sponsor of the Australian Olympics team and has no official role with the Olympic movement.

“It is therefore extremely disappointing to witness Telstra’s ‘I go to Rio’ marketing campaign, which the AOC regards as a clear attempt to deceive Australians,” the statement continued.

“Despite repeated attempts for cooperation, today the AOC has been left with no choice but to seek appropriate legal measures in the Federal Court.”

A Telstra spokesperson confirmed the telco updated its advertising after the AOC initially raised concerns and stated the ads were solely focused on promoting the commercial agreement between it and Channel Seven.

“Telstra has an existing commercial partnership with the Seven Network. Our current advertising simply promotes that commercial arrangement and that Telstra customers get free access to premium content through the Seven app,” the spokesperson stated.

“The AOC raised concerns with us and so we updated our advertising to include an explicit statement that Telstra is not an official sponsor of the Olympic Games, any Olympic Committees or teams.

“As the matter is now before the courts there is no further comment we can make at this time.”

The news came on the eve of Telstra's new branding campaign, which aims to help shift its image from telco to technology provider and showcase the brand's impact on people's lives.

Follow CMO on Twitter: @CMOAustralia, take part in the CMO conversation on LinkedIn: CMO ANZ, join us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CMOAustralia, or check us out on Google+: google.com/+CmoAu

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