Headphone maker 'Beats' marketing rules at Olympics

Controversy: Beats headphones find their way onto the ears of some of the most watched athletes in the world -- but the marketing ploy may be a rule breaker.

File this one under M.W.A.: Marketers with attitude.

Beats headphones are causing a stir at the Olympics. Greg Sandoval/CNET

Organizers of the 2012 London Olympics are peeved at Beats Electronics, makers of the headphones that are ubiquitous in major U.S. cities, according to The Guardian and other British publications. Without the company ponying up the money to become an official sponsor of the games, Beats' headphones still managed to find their way onto the ears of Olympic athletes, who during the games are some of the most watched people on the planet.

That makes them very valuable human billboards.

Officials from the International Olympic Committee are looking into whether anything can be done about the marketing ploy, according to reports coming out of London. The IOC has strict rules about appearing to endorse products that are not official sponsors. If they didn't, who would bother to pay the sponsorship fees?

A Beats representative declined to comment.

The controversy started when some of the athletes from Great Britain started posting excited messages to Twitter about receiving a pair of custom-made Beats, complete with the Union Jack printed on them. Apparently, one of the athletes posted a message to Twitter saying that some of Beats' so-called guerrilla marketers were "bumping" into athletes.

Beats Electronics was founded by Jimmy Iovine, the famed music executive, along with Dr. Dre, recording star, actor, and music producer. The company's headphones are popular with young people and are commonly photographed swaddling the heads of the famous, including professional athletes, musicians, and actors. This isn't the company's first spin with the Olympics.

In 2008, Dr. Dre gave Beats headphones to LeBron James and other members of the U.S. Men's Basketball team at the Beijing games.

Maybe the Brits aren't hip to hip hop or rap music from Los Angeles. If they were they would know that Dr. Dre's name is synonymous with rebellion. He's a former member of N.W.A., a rap group that helped make explicit lyrics popular and also glorified gang culture. He recorded the 1992 landmark album "The Chronic," a reference to marijuana.

More recently, Dre has become an honored and honorable pillar of the music and electronics business.

It's hard to imagine that any company connected with one of the founders of Death Row Records wouldn't at least test the rules from time to time.

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About the author

Greg Sandoval covers media and digital entertainment for CNET News. Based in New York, Sandoval is a former reporter for The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times. E-mail Greg, or follow him on Twitter at @sandoCNET.



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