What is ambush marketing? And will brands add it to their promotional mix for this years’ Olympics and UEFA European Football Championships?

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In answer to the first question in my title, ambush marketing is when a brand intentionally tries to make itself seem associated with an event for which it has purchased no rights and is not an official sponsor.

Typically, due to large TV audiences and human attendees, these events tend to be sports related – and to a lesser degree music.

The reasons brands use ambush marketing as part of their promotional mix varies. For instance some choose to do it to attack rivals; whist for others it’s a way to gain awareness and engagement using meagre marketing funds – stealing impact from their bigger, richer competitors.

But no matter what the strategy is behind the tactic – it is both creative and parasitic in equal measure.

And there have been lots of examples of this in recent years. For example:

On a major road leading to the 2008 French Open tennis tournament in Paris, sports brand K-Swiss parked a car that appeared to have been squashed by a giant K-Swiss-branded tennis ball. Across the street, a K-Swiss van distributed gifts and marketing materials highlighting the brand and its involvement with tennis.

But the problem was that K-Swiss was not an official tournament sponsor and hadn’t paid a penny for involvement – yet managed to get some great awareness and engagement with the public.

15 Love to them then!

And ambush marketing can create a David and Goliath effect too

This is because if the brand doing the ambushing is significantly smaller than the official sponsor, as it was in the K-Swiss example, the public often side with the small guy! Particularly if the big guy stops the small guy giving something away for free. After all, who doesn’t like something for nothing?

But ambushing a major event doesn’t have to include free giveaways to be successful.

For example in 1992 American Express launched an advertising campaign using images and scenes from Barcelona – which was the host city of the Summer Olympics held in that year.

Their adverts were accompanied by the line “You don’t need a visa to visit Spain”.

This was of course American Express’ attempt to ambush the Olympics, shifting impact away from the games official sponsor, and their major rival, Visa.

Although I should point out that, far from being proud of the tactic, American Express denied any wrong doing, stating that the adverts did not directly refer to the Olympics and was not an attempt at an ambush.

And of course, who could forget those clever marketing people at Dutch beer brand Bavaria for their cunning marketing stunt during the Holland versus Denmark game during the South Africa World Cup Finals – click here to read more

But brands should consider their long-term impact on events

This is because major brands, who see their ROI diminished by successful ambushes, might simply withdraw from spending millions on official sponsorship. And let’s be honest, if this kind of marketing tactic isn’t stamped out, why should they invest their money? And without these large sponsorship deals, major events may suffer from a severe lack of funds.

So will brands use ambush marketing at this years sports events?

My money is on yes.

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