Organizers of the 2010 Olympics have publicly scolded Vancouver retailer Lululemon Athletica for selling a special edition of clothing that celebrates a "cool sporting event" taking place in British Columbia.
Lululemon, which is not a Games sponsor, unveiled its "Cool Sporting Event That Takes Place in British Columbia Between 2009 & 2011 Edition" clothing at stores across Canada on Monday.
The hooded sweatshirts, tuques and T-shirts are being sold just two months before the Games begin at venues in Vancouver and Whistler, B.C.
"We expected better sportsmanship from a local Canadian company than to produce a clothing line that attempts to profit from the Games but doesn't support the Games or the success of the Canadian Olympic team," stated Bill Cooper, director of commercial rights management for the Olympic organizing committee, known as VANOC.
VANOC has exclusive Canadian marketing rights to Olympic brands from Jan. 1, 2005 to Dec. 31, 2012. Only official, paying sponsors are allowed to market products under the brand.
As a result, the committee is notoriously protective of the Olympic brand, threatening and following through with legal action against any businesses trying to hone in on Games trademarks.
"We see the collection and the marketing activities around the collection as both disappointing and posing significant risk of inflicting harm on the Games," Cooper said in an interview Tuesday.
However, Cooper said VANOC won't pursue legal action against Lululemon.
"They have done a lot of homework to avoid strict repercussions under the letter of the law," he said. "That's a large part of what we find disappointing, that the only standards they held themselves to was the letter of the law."
Cooper said VANOC will try to persuade Lululemon to change tactics with the advertising of its new clothing line.
VANOC also noted that "real" Olympics merchandise can be purchased at the Hudson's Bay Company, an official sponsor, and from numerous Canadian licensees across the country.
Lululemon had bid in the past to be the official outfitter of Canada's Olympic team, but lost to Hudson's Bay Co. in 2005 for the 2006 Games in Italy. The Bay won the contract to outfit the Canadian team from the 2006 Olympics until 2012.
Lululemon insisted the clothing line is about patriotism, not ambush marketing ahead of the Olympics.
In reaction to the VANOC statement, Lululemon said late Tuesday that it supports athletes at all levels.
"We will continue our support of both local and world-class athletes in our hometown of Vancouver, across Canada, and in communities around the world throughout this coming year and in the years ahead," said the statement.
The company's new special edition of clothing includes hoodies in various colours representing Canada, the United States, Germany and Sweden — the four countries Lululemon thinks will represent the most visitors for the Games.
What's more, the Canadian sweaters have gold zippers, while the U.S. ones are silver.
Lululemon has a history of cheeky marketing campaigns and most of its success is based on viral marketing.
One of the retailer's most memorable stunts was when it offered a free outfit to the first 30 people who showed up naked to a new store opening in 2002. It has also poked fun at itself by spray-painting "sell-out," "cult" and other graffiti on its storefront windows.
But some of its marketing has been less successful. In 2008, the federal Competition Bureau forced Lululemon to remove claims about health benefits of seaweed in its VitaSea clothing line from the labels.