Telstra’s ‘ambush’ Olympics campaign a key part of brand relaunch, court hears

The Australian Olympic Committee has claimed  Telstra’s campaign for its Channel Seven Rio Olympic Games app was aimed at convincing consumers its 22 years of support for the Australian Olympic Team continued, despite it ending last year.


Telstra seven 2

At the same time the AOC told the Federal Court today that Telstra was using its Games advertising as an important pillar of the brand relaunch which kicked off this week, a project the court was told had been dubbed “Brand 3”.

However, the Telco has countered the claim by the AOC, saying that all the materials had been approved by the International Olympic Committee through Seven’s broadcast agreement.

Telstra’s barrister, Anthony McGrath, cited correspondence between the IOC and the Seven Network approving words for a portal to be used as part of the campaign.

The hearing was slowed by the Seven Network having claimed confidentiality over many of the commercial documents submitted as evidence – a matter Justice Michael Wigney complained about, saying he did not believe many of the documents needed to be confidential – which could impact how he delivered his judgement in the case.

The issue of confidentiality and whether the IOC had “approved” the campaign came to a sensational head late in the afternoon when the AOC countered Telstra’s submissions that it had the approval of the IOC. The AOC’s counsel David Studdy read from a series of emails where an IOC official said “these Telstra promotions do not comply with the agreement”.

As he went to read further Studdy was stopped mid-sentence by a member of his team and told the document being quoted was confidential.AOC olympic logo

However, he went on to paraphrase saying that while Telstra had claimed it’s campaign had received IOC approval in May, an email from six days ago said: “In a nutshell this correspondence … (is) saying we have a serious problem with elements of this campaign.”


The campaign is part of a broader push to present Telstra as a “world class technology company” with the campaign created by The Monkeys showing how it enables people to use “magic”, with the tagline ‘Thrive On’.

In a packed hearing, counsel for the AOC alleged that Telstra had set out to align itself with the Games in the minds of the consumers, breaching the AOC’s rights.

Justice Wigney heard that Telstra had been a sponsor of the AOC from 1990 until 2012 but it was “no longer a sponsor”, with Optus taking over the role this year.

The campaign was described as “a very extensive, no doubt expensive, well thought out advertising campaign” by Studdy.

He said that Telstra had referred to the campaign internally as “Olympics campaign” as it used it to promote its sponsorship of Seven’s Olympics app which is being offered to Telstra customers for free.

The AOC also said that the agency behind the campaign had been given deliverables to create the campaign promoting the app with Seven “without reference to the Games themselves”.

Internal documents revealed that the Telstra campaign, as a part of the new Brand 3 push, was aimed at generating 2,500 new customers and downloads of the apps.

The hearing began with AOC counsel setting out the rules and regulations that the International Olympic Committee and the Australian Olympic Committee operated under, noting that the AOC had complete control of local sponsorship agreements.

The AOC alleged that the campaign was clearly set out to present Telstra as having an affiliation with the Games through the ads themselves and the totality of the campaign, which also saw Telstra marketing its app in conjunction with Samsung, which is an official global sponsor.

“We say they don’t have these rights, it’s as clear as a bell,” Studdy said.

The court was shown a range of ads created for the campaign, including amended versions with disclaimers inserted after the AOC first raised the issue with Telstra a week ago.

Telstra RIo Olympics

Telstra used a disclaimer on its advertising after being pulled up by the AOC last week

McGrath told the court that the ads were little more than sponsorship of Seven’s broadcast and its app, and that it did not seek to use the games themselves as a promotional vehicle.

However, the court also heard that the TV ads, which have been withdrawn under order, ran not only on Seven, but Ten, Nine, Gem One, 11 and WIN.

A series of brochures and point of sale materials are also meant to be distributed in coming days and are not as yet being stopped under the existing court oder, with the AOC told it would have to file a further application to stop them being distributed.

While Justice Wigney questioned whether many of the ads breached the AOCs rights in the way claimed, the AOC said it was the totality of the campaign, the theme of Peter Allen’s song I Go to Rio, and Telstra’s long standing history as a sponsor of the AOC that was the breach of the AOCs rights

“What we are seeking to do is stop the matters that we complain about,” Studdy said when asked by Justice Wigney if it was possible to ban the entire campaign.

“If there was no reference to the Olympics we would not be here,” he said.

The hearing has been adjourned until July 29 when Justice Wigney said he would deliver an oral judgement given the need for a rapid outcome ahead of the Games which start on August 5.

Mumbrella’s Sports Marketing Summit on July 28 features a session looking at how brands can crash the Olympics and not get sued. See the full program and get tickets here. 



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