In June 2021, Zalando placed a large billboard in Rome Square where the official “UEFA Euro 2020” football village was set up by UEFA. Zalando was not an official sponsor or partner of such an event.
The billboard included the request: “Who will be the winner?” as well as the Zalando brands, the 24 national flags of the participants in the football event and a white football t-shirt with the famous Zalando logo:
A few days later, on June 8, 2021, the billboard was replaced with a new one, uncontested in the proceedings. This second panel raises the same question as the first (“Who will be the winner?”), but provides a simple answer: “Love always wins”, and also includes Zalando brands:
Zalando challenges and defenses
The Italian competition authority claimed that this behavior amounted to ambush marketing. Zalando’s denied this, saying the law regulating ambush marketing would not apply in this case and that the campaign had a social purpose. His defense rested, in sum, on the following arguments:
- the billboard would have been intended to raise awareness on key social issues, such as the inclusion of minorities, and to spread a message of love and unity. The promotional activity was reportedly linked to his previous social initiatives.
- Decree-Law No. 16/2020 was not applicable in this case because events such as UEFA Euro 2020 would be out of reach. The decree-law would instead refer to the Milan-Cortina 2026 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games and the 2021-2025 ATP Finals in Turin.
- In any case, Legislative Decree no. copyright – of its organizers or participants.
- Eventually, the billboard was removed after only 8 days: the alleged unfair conduct quickly ceased and caused no serious damage.
The authority refuted all of Zalando’s defensive theses confirming that Zalando’s conduct was contrary to the decree-law and imposed a fine of 100,000 euros.
He said the general impression of the billboard was capable of creating a link between Zalando and the football event, misleading the public by suggesting that Zalando was an official sponsor of UEFA Euro 2020 or UEFA. somehow legitimately linked to it.
The authority also clarified that the scope of protection of Legislative Decree No. 16/2020 includes all sporting events of national or international importance. Furthermore, he declared that any behavior that could create a link, even indirect, with the event and its distinctive sign or that could mislead the public as to the official sponsors of the event, is illegal under the law.
The decision reveals that the Italian competition authority pays great attention to the phenomenon of ambush marketing. It also reveals that Decree-Law No. 16/2020 applies to a wide range of events, and not just those for which it was originally adopted, namely the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games in Milan- Cortina 2026 and the 2021 – 2025 ATP Finals in Turin.
Promoters should carefully consider these limitations when designing an advertising campaign. Indeed, a campaign creating a link between the brand and an event can attract the attention of the Autorité and turn into a financial penalty.