Beats by Dre gives headphones to British athletes, angering IOC in marketing controversy

LONDON – Dr. Dre has made his mark on the 2012 Olympics by launching an ambush marketing campaign that has infuriated Olympic chiefs.

The rapper came up with the idea of sending athletes special versions of his Beats headphones, complete with personalization and decked out in national colors.

Dre and his public relations and marketing teams devised the plan to send batches of the headphones to Great Britain athletes, despite the detailed regulations of the International Olympic Committee that prohibit "advertising" from companies that do not hold official Olympic rights.

Several swimmers and members of the British soccer team have been spotted wearing the headphones. The IOC is considering what action to take. It is unlikely the athletes can be ordered not to wear the items, but they could be prevented from mentioning them in interviews via social media.

"If there is a blatant attempt at ambush marketing or by a group of people with commercial views then of course we will intervene," IOC president Jacques Rogge said.

Tennis players, archers and platform divers, mainly from Britain, were also seen with the flag-emblazoned headphones. There was speculation the success of the project would lead to Beats by Dre offering similar handouts to athletes from other nations.

[ Related: American athletes defy IOC ban on social media use to promote sponsors ]

The popularity of Beats by Dre began to grow during the 2008 Games in Beijing after the company gave headphones to LeBron James and he distributed them to the rest of the NBA players on Team USA. Upon their arrival in Beijing, several of the players were wearing the headphones as the international media greeted them.

The IOC is especially angered as it has an official electronics partner in Panasonic whose interests it is likely to take action to protect.

"We have to be careful because without these measures there could be no sponsorships and without sponsorships there would be no Olympics," Rogge said.

The ambush by Dre has been particularly successful in the Aquatics Centre, with virtually every swimmer at the Games now using headphones to tune out background noise as they walk toward the pool before races.

[ Video: Giants star Aaron Ross predicts more success for victorious wife ]

The situation is the latest in a series of headaches the IOC has suffered in relation to its stringent brand-protection measures. American athletes, including 400-meter sprinter Sanya Richards-Ross, have criticized Rule 40, the IOC code-of-conduct regulation that prevents competitors from using social media to mention their sponsors.

A marketing expert also claimed the rigidity of the regulations has actually allowed some non-sponsors to benefit by positioning themselves as "underdog" brands.

"Everyone has been trying to protect the brands that have invested so much money in the Games," said Gavin Lewis of the Hope and Glory marketing agency. "But in being so strict about what can be done, they have made a rod for their own backs in the sense that they have allowed other brands to get in."

Related Olympics coverage on Yahoo! Sports:

More Olympics coverage on Yahoo! Sports:
Missy Franklin has the skills to carry the 'Female Phelps' label
Japanese appeal in gymnastics gives them silver medal, bumps Ukraine
U.S. men finish a disappointing fifth in gymnastics