Public Relations

Will Olympic sausages from the butcher really harm Goliath sponsors?

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Last week Oliver Astley, a friend of mine and the Business Correspondent at Derby Evening Telegraph, asked me to give my opinion on the Olympic marketing debacle.
So I did.
And he kindly printed my garbled thoughts in his well read and respected Business Weekly supplement

And if you’re interested in reading my thoughts, here they are:

TRADERS offering flaming torch baguettes or Olympic sausages are unlikely to take market share from Samsung, Lloyds Bank or Proctor and Gamble.

But that has not stopped the organising committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games from getting its knickers in a twist.

Lord Coe, holding an Olympic torch, who has come under fire for saying that people wearing logos of non-Olympic sponsors might be turned away from the Games.

The London Olympics will cost an estimated £9.3 billion to host and raising money through sponsorship is obviously crucial.

And protecting the branding rights of the 53 official sponsors, who contribute an estimated £1 billion between them, is clearly a high priority for Locog.

But there is a growing feeling that the organisers have gone too far with their heavy-handed protection of the sponsors.

Lord Coe has come in for particular criticism, having said that people wearing logos of non-Olympic sponsors might be turned away.

Putting the legal aspects aside, this is an unwelcome own goal for sponsors as it is creating a wave of negative PR – which is, ironically, the exact opposite of what sponsorship is designed to achieve.

And this comes at an uncertain time for sponsorship in general.

Major brands are evaluating the effectiveness of such large deals.

In fact, in a recent survey by Brand Republic, many people reported that they had no idea who was sponsoring the Olympics.

And 16% of people surveyed thought Tesco was a sponsor. It is not.

Similarly, Canon, Carlsberg, Sky and Orange, none of whom have anything to do with the Games, were all named as sponsors by those surveyed.

But Locog’s policing of the Games is not just to give sponsors maximum value for their investment. It is to stave off the threat of ambush marketing.

This is a controversial tactic whereby a brand tries to make it appear that it is associated with an event for which it has purchased no rights, usually drawing attention away from the official sponsor.

And to be fair to Lord Coe and Locog, ambush marketing is a genuine concern as there have been numerous examples of this tactic at major sporting events.

These include a construction of a heavily-branded Nike village next to the athletes’ village at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, at which Reebok was the official footwear sponsor.

And who could forget the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, when the Bavaria brewing company outfitted 30 Dutch women in mini-dresses in its trademark orange for the Netherlands’ opening game against Denmark – much to the annoyance of official beer sponsor Budweiser?

What makes this even more frustrating for sponsors is the David and Goliath effect.

This is because, if the brand doing the ambushing is significantly smaller than the official sponsor, as it often is, the public tend to side with the little guy.

Particularly if the big guy stops the little guy giving away freebies. After all, we all like getting free stuff.

People involved in ambush marketing think it’s clever and often funny but, for me, it’s nothing more than theft that damages the value of sponsorship.

And ultimately, if the sponsors do not get the return-on-investment they need, they will simply stop investing their marketing money, which could be disastrous for many sporting events.

It will be interesting to see what unofficial sponsors hungry for Olympic publicity will come up with – but let’s hope common sense prevails and Usain Bolt is not turned away for wearing trainers made by Puma.


I’ve created lots of press adverts, outdoor and direct mail, but this is my first cinema effort. And I’m pretty happy with it too.

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It will be played before every feature film shown during Summer Nights, a fantastic cinema initiative by Derby Quad which brings classic and contemporary films together with fabulous locations throughout Derbyshire. All presented on a giant screens.

Flint Bishop is the headline sponsor of Summer Nights and as part of a wider promotional mix we get to show an advertisement before each film. And I decided the best way forward was to capture the essence of the festival whilst communicating the Flint Bishop brand delicately.

So I shied away from ‘over killing’ our credentials and services as, to be honest, I think this would just irritate people and give a negative, rather than positive, feeling.

I’m pretty happy with the results and a big thank you to Phil Higgins, the Digital Producer at Derby based independent design studio Katapult.

I’d love to know what you think?

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.

English and Welsh lawyers are waking up to a new competitive threat. It’s called bullshit, also known as PR.

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Law firms inEnglandandWalesare preparing themselves for battle. In October this year the Alternative Business Structure comes into force, opening up the market to a new glut of competition. 

In addition to this, and the seemly increasing number of unqualified Will writers and employment law charlatans exchanging crap advice for hard earned money, is QualitySolicitors. This is to my knowledge the UK’s first legal franchise which is being fronted by everyone’s favorite TV show panel judge for the mentally ill –  Amanda Holden.

The QualitySolicitors concept has taken a hammering from the legal world who, by and large, feel they are cheapening the profession. Whist there is a real danger of this, most comments I have read by lawyers could be translated into: “we’re scared and don’t know what to do.”  

I actually think that their approach, and that of the Alternative Business Structures, might result in law firms taking an objective look at themselves and sharpening their own marketing efforts. In addition law firms might benefit, by which I mean make more sales, by ‘piggybacking’ on the back of a general increase in awareness of the need for their services – for instance that 4 out of 5 people still don’t have a Will.

Anyhow, aside all that, law firms will start to understand just what a dog-eat-dog world we live in and how marketing can have a massive impact on their fortunes. This brings me on to my main point, public relations. A marketing tool that wields huge power but is very rarely used to full impact by law firms.

This is clearly not the case at QualitySolicitors. A couple of weeks back Amanda Holden appeared on ITV1’s This Morning programme promoting the brand she is paid to. She apparently commented: “You can walk into WHSmith… there is a list that is now recommended by the public, for the public, of solicitors who are kosher, who are not going to rip you off and who can help you. And it’s completely free, you get advice free and then you can get any information you need.”

Asked who drew up the list of solicitors, she suggested QualitySolicitors had official Law Society backing as she continued: “There’s a governing body for solicitors and what they’ve done is they’ve gone to each town, they’ve picked the best solicitor from each town so there’s not a whole load of them and they’ve done a survey, they’ve contacted the clients… listened to the feedback, picked the cream of the crop and put them on that QualitySolicitors list.”

This is bullshit of the highest order that has got thousands of solicitors up-and-down the land moaning on websites and contacting the law society to issue a clarification.

However law firms need to wake up as this is how the competitive world of business works. At every opportunity businesses try to get valuable media coverage, preferable via a celebrity, to promote their brands even if what is being said is questionable. Even if an apology was made by QualitySolicitors or a clarification issued by the Law Society the message is out and the damage done. Now I am not condoning lying about your service and marketing proposition, I’m just being honest about the reality of business and the tactics used.  Law firms need to stop obsessing about competitors marketing efforts and look at how they are going to compete in a new competitive world.