Marketers possess a toolkit of old and new tactics for achieving marketing objectives, typically aimed at raising awareness and stunting competition. Some tactics are more common and effective than others, however ambush marketing is often left at the bottom of the tool bag, disregarded. It’s typically explicit in attacking rivals and can be relatively low cost – so in a fiercely competitive era for businesses, why don’t marketers working within a budget have the grit to use it and what happens when they do?
Ambush marketing for those unaware is a method of delivering marketing communications to target consumers, which directly attacks, disrupts or ‘piggybacks’ the marketing activities of competitors – ultimately stealing the spotlight (Nufer, 2013).
Event organisers are often the party who have to pay the price for these types of campaign as they are pressured to protect official sponsors who they often rely on financially.
World Cup 2010 – Dutch Brewery, Bavaria
The first ambush marketing campaign I ever came across was in a university lecture: The World Cup 2010 Dutch Beer stunt which led to the arrest of two female organisers, who were later fined. The Dutch Brewery; Bavaria, decided to ambush the marketing activities of the official FIFA World Cup Beer; Budweiser, by organising for a group of attractive females wearing their bright, branded dresses to celebrate during the game and attract the spotlight, including television coverage (Guardian, 2010). The total investment of this campaign, even with the penalty charges is significantly less than what Budweiser would have paid to be the official FIFA drinks partner and I’m sure the Bavaria girls were more eye-catching and memorable than a beer cup ‘sponsored by Budweiser’ logo. Great work, but let’s take a look at some other ambush marketing stunts…
Fiat ambush Volkswagen on Google Maps
Another great example of ambush marketing is by Fiat and was a stroke of impulsive genius. Over the last decade, Google dispatched cars worldwide to photograph and index every road and street in the world to create Google Maps, not dissimilarly to how they crawl the corners of internet and document everything in their path. Fiat caught wind of this in Sweden, and set out on their own cunning ambush plan – park a Fiat 500 outside the Volkswagen HQ before the Google car drives past (Minato, 2012). If guerrilla marketing and search engine optimisation had a baby, I think this practical joke would be it.
Unfortunately for us readers, Google have since re-written their maps and the Fiat is no longer sabotaging Volkswagen, however if you’re slightly sinister like me, you’ll take pleasure in knowing that Fiat digitally squatted in this parking space for several years.
As you may have noticed, this form of guerrilla marketing is typically controversial, cunning and cheeky since it’s concern for abiding the law is questionable. It can be viewed as disrespectful and distasteful foul play by professionals who orchestrate a significant marketing budget or competitors who have made significant financial investments. However, one thing marketers should respect about these campaigns is the frugality and simplicity of these marketing activities at increasing brand awareness, whilst typically saving cost.
The impact of ambush marketing on sports events
The 2018 World Cup’s global stage was a prime target for marketers because “consumers love events, corporations love consumers…” says Alessandro (1993, quoted in Nufer, 2013, p.2) however ambush marketing has become a recognised concern for sporting events and it is even more stringent and less straight-forward than ever before. Legal limitations and restrictions from the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) have tightened, making it increasingly difficult to ambush and de-value official sports sponsors.
Just look at this list of phrases Adweek have advised non-sponsors not to even mention during the Olympic period of the Rio Games (pictured right) (Klara, 2016). In the world of business, this doesn’t show much sportsmanship – I sense a bit of foul play.
Nike have established a connection to, or association with, key sporting events whilst dodging the considerable sum of being an official sponsor on more than one occasion. One article in particular claims that Nike ‘Ruined Olympic Marketing’. Surely, that’s a bit extreme? Maybe not. Nike weren’t much less harsh to the official sponsor of the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games; Reebok, when they built a large Nike Centre next to the official athlete’s village and handed out free Nike flags to customers to take into the games. Not to mention, flooding the Georgian billboards with Nike adverts. Reebok were also ambushed by Puma, when Olympic gold sprinter wore Puma logo contact lenses at a press conference. Pure sabotage. (Joseph, 2012; Klara, 2016)
Umbro, a smaller sporting brand, less equipped to rival the marketing budgets of large players such as Nike and Adidas employed the use of ambush marketing to celebrate the World Cup, whilst mocking the advertising regulations but not making reference to the games (McCarthy, 2018; Domino, 2018)
Network provider Three, also had a great idea, revamping their logo with emojis to depict three lions. Surely, this light-hearted store front emoji pun can’t harm the official sponsor significantly? (The Drum, 2018)
Ambush marketing can’t always be planned into a marketing strategy due to it’s considerable red-tape, but when the opportunity does arise to associate your brand with a particular idea or event, it’s a tool marketer’s can use cleverly. It requires some of the best work of marketers – objective-focused solution finding, creativity, competitiveness, intelligence, witty humour and mastery of words and communications to drive engagement from their consumers.
If you’re the underdog and you think you’ve got what it takes to navigate through the web of potential legal implications, why not see if ambush marketing can work for you to accelerate your brand. Or, if not, keep your eye out for ambush marketing triumphs and failures.
Author: Kieran Harvey
Domino, B (2018). How To Make a Hit Football Anthem[Online video]. 7 June. Available from: <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CWSYOdxx8Tg> [Accessed 10 October 2018]
The Guardian (2010) World Cup 2010: Women arrested over ‘ambush marketing’ freed on bail. The Guardian [Online]. 16 June. Available from: <https://www.theguardian.com/football/2010/jun/16/fifa-world-cup-ambush-marketing> [Accessed 11 October 2018].
McCarthy, J. (2018) The 9 best marketing ambushes at the 2018 World Cup. The Drum [Online]. 29 June. Available from: <https://www.thedrum.com/news/2018/06/29/the-9-best-marketing-ambushes-the-2018-world-cup> [Accessed 10 October 2018]
Minato, C. (2012) Ingenious Ambush Campaigns From Nike, Samsung and BMW Make Official Sponsorships Look Like A Waste. Business Insider [Online]. 14 June. Available from: https://www.businessinsider.com/best-ambush-marketing-campaigns-2012-6?IR=T#fiat-photobombs-vws-headquarters-in-google-street-view-3[Accessed 10 October 2018]
Joseph, S. (2012) Top ambush marketing stunts. Marketing Week [Online]. 22 June. Available from: <https://www.marketingweek.com/2012/06/22/top-ambush-marketing-stunts/> [Accessed 10 October 2018]
Klara, R. (2016) How Nike Brilliantly Ruined Olympic Marketing Forever. Adweek [Online]. 10 August. Available from: <https://www.adweek.com/brand-marketing/how-nike-brilliantly-ruined-olympic-marketing-forever-172899/> [Accessed 10 October 2018]
Nufer, G. (2014) Ambush marketing in sports: theory and practice[Online]. London. Routledge, 2014. [Accessed 17 October 2018]