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.

So tell me, are you proficient in Crayola?

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I have worked in marketing now for over 15 years; 7 of which have been dedicated to professional services marketing. During this time I have had the privilege of working with some of the wittiest, intelligent and forthright people one could possibly wish to meet.

Unfortunately, my work has also meant that I have had the displeasure of meeting a flood of pompous individuals who, professional knowledge aside, are pretty thick.

At a recent professional services marketing event held in London, I overheard two middle men aged talking about the marketing departments in their respective accountancy firms (it was fairly obvious that these guys were accountants) when one quipped to the other “Marketing in my firm is commonly referred to as the paper and crayons department!”

I have a couple of issues with this comment. First, if they have such a disdain for marketing why bother attending a marketing event in the first place (aside from free refreshments and a temporary escape from their own boring jobs) and secondly, this attitude highlights a rife misunderstanding in professional services firms that marketing is only about designing communications – which of course, it isn’t.

I wonder what reaction I would get from these two professionals if I announced that I was swapping my marketing job for a lifetime of accounting – after all, it’s only adding-up and taking-away – and I have a calculator that can do that!

Is advertising a dirty word for the online community?

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I was reading an article recently and, according to the Advertising Bureau’s annual report,  Facebook saw its year-on-year display advertising rocket by 27.5% in 2010. This now means that Facebook accounts for almost 25% of the UKs online advertising revenues which stand at £4b. Research in advertising trends now shows that £1 in every £4 spent on marketing and advertising by British companies is spent online.

After reading the article online, I continued down the page (as I always do, but by now should know better) to read the various comments posted in response. I was amazed by the rancour aimed at people who had ever dare click on an advertisement – and also the level of superiority of those who had resisted the advertisers best attempts at luring them in.

There were literally 100’s of posts from the ‘morally superior’ describing people that click on ads as morons.

Here’s the thing. I am not defending online advertising as I often find it irritating and, as a fairly heavy internet user, don’t recall clicking on an adertisement to further my interest in any product or service.  As a marketer I have not invested much in online advertising as campaign ROMI has been achieved by using other elements of my communications mix – although I wouldn’t rule it out as in the words of Richard V Benson “There are only two rules in direct marketing. Rule 1: test everything. Rule 2: Refer to Rule 1″ A maxim that should be applied to both the message and medium in my opinion.

However I don’t view the people clicking on advertisements any lower in class, social standing or brain power than me. However I do hold the view that people making such derogatory comments are pompous twats – who spell their anti-commercial/capatalist revolutions with a very small r.

The thing that really irritates me with this smug bunch is that they don’t seem to appreciate that 100s of online services, including Facebook, are paid for by ‘dirty advertisers’.  I would be very interested to see just how high their morale ground is, and deep their pockets are, should Facebook and others start charging say, £300 a year, for the privilege of having an advertisement free service!

According to Bob Bly we might see more advertising tosh!

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I was discussing the topic of my first ever blog post with a marketing colleague of mine this morning – the fact I think the Halifax ISA Baby TV advertisement is tosh of the highest order. However she made a very good point and one that marketing, and particularly advertising folk, forget all too often. That is, it doesn’t really matter what I think of the advertisement. All that counts for the Halifax is how successful the advertising campaign has been at generating enquires for its ISA products. In the words of advertising copywriting guru Bob Bly

“The goal of advertising is not to be liked — it is to sell products. The advertiser, if he is smart, doesn’t care whether people like his commercials or are entertained or amused by them. Commercials are a means to an end, and the end is increased sales — and profits — for the advertiser”

Based on Bob’s quote I guess you can be assured that, if the Halifax processing department is currently knee deep in applications, the ISA Baby advertisement won’t be the last incarnation of their dreadful mock radio show campaign!!!!!!!!

Marketing Awards: Are they worth it and, if so, 6 tips on things to consider before applying.

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There appears to be no shortage of marketing awards that businesses can apply for these days. Whether they are specific to marketing like CIM Excellence or ones that fit into a marketing category of an industry awards, for example the UK Broker Awards.

I guess like most things in life winning will make you happy. Add this to the glut of tangible benefits below and you’re probably thinking entering awards are a no-brainer.

Tangible benefits:

  • Make your boss and senior management think you’re doing a fine job (which I’m sure you are)
  • Generate positive public relations
  • You can inform your clients that they are working with an ‘award winning firm’
  • You can inform your prospects they could be working with an ‘award winning firm’
  • Its sticks two-fingers up to the competition who didn’t win
  • Staff can be thanked for doing a great job (this of course has additional business benefits as according to marketing professor Sally Dibb  ‘organisation performance is increased with satisfied, happy and motivated employees’)

However don’t just rush off and start downloading the application forms just yet as in my humble opinion, many business awards are simply not worth the effort.

Please don’t think my opinion is based on sour grapes (in fact I have been involved in projects that have won several awards, and in an act of shameless self promotion click here to take look at a professional marketing one) it is because there are so many awards that are totally obscure.

In addition the submission process can be lengthy and is often dropped onto the overstretched marketing team. However, if applying for awards is part of your marketing strategy, not to mention a true reflection of your obvious marketing genius, below are some tips on how to decide which awards are worth applying for.

Is the award ‘valued’?

Be honest with yourself. Before you read the finely crafted marketing communications piece tempting you to apply, had you ever heard of it? Usually if the answer is no, steer clear. To test an award’s value consider whether you would be impressed if one of your competitors won it. Would it make you envious of them and would you perceive the competitors brand to be enhanced by the accolade?

Also look at the previous winners. Have you heard of them and/or do you admire and respect them?

Does it represent a good return on investment?

Many awards charge a small administration fee to enter – and some are even free. Be warned though as this if often a bit of a ‘sprat to catch a mackerel’ strategy by the organisers. For instance, should you make the shortlist for the award you’ll no doubt want to collect it in person so you can have your very own Oscar speech moment. To do this you’ll need to be at the ceremony and most businesses tend to reserve a table for 10 guests; usually mixing some clients with your well behaved work colleagues. Costs can be anywhere from £100 – £300 plus per head not including alcohol. On top of this is the travel expensive which can be significant. To give you some idea I recently attended an award ceremony inLondon(traveling from theMidlands) with nine colleagues and the train and accommodation cost £2550 – and we didn’t go luxury as we stayed in the Premier Inn at Kings Cross!!!!

My rough math calculates that your marketing budget is already down £5,500 before you’ve even had a beer!

The Judges and sponsors – Who are they?

This might sound a little trivial but it isn’t. For instance there are legal awards whose judging panel consists of partners and senior managers from law firms. Now I might be accused of cynicism here (or undermining the professionalism) but in the real world, is your fiercest competitor likely to vote for you?

Have a look at who is sponsoring the awards too. Again if one of your rivals has ploughed marketing money into sponsoring the awards is it really likely that you will walk off with the prize?

Are you the current ‘holder’ of the award?

Several years ago I once entered a submission for an award that my firm was the current holders of. However we didn’t actually win the second time round and when I asked one of the senior judging panel why (it was about 2.00am and we were both pissed at the after-party) he simply replied “because you’re the holders, and it doesn’t look fair to the others if you win it two years running!”

Will it matter to your clients?

As mentioned above a tangible benefit of winning an award is having the opportunity to tell your clients. Not only is this a great topic for your client communications mix (although remember communications is about them not just you) this also reassures clients that they are working with a good firm. It is also an opportunity to invite them to the actual ceremony to further increase relationships – or just get drunk!

Will it help you turn prospects into clients?

On its own, no, of course it won’t. However it is another topic for your communications mix and if the award has value and is recognized by prospects it will certainly add to your quality perception and brand positioning.

Can your time be more effectively spent?

In my experience senior management often decide to apply for an award but the real work involved is pushed onto marketing. Award submissions can take weeks to get right; from drafting the application, researching and finding supporting poof, testimonials, sticking to maximum word limits and the endless re-writes and amends.

So yes, without doubt your time and money can be more effectively spent.

My conclusion

As long as you do your research before applying to evaluate the awards value, have the time and money to invest in the submission and organise a communications plan to announce your well deserved victory, then I guess some awards are worth winning.

Buy 0, get 2 free…Now that’s great customer service

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As most marketing folk know, good customer service is as the very heart of marketing. Even if your actual product is fantastic, if you deliver it in a shoddy manner without much thought for the customer service experience, you’re far less likely to have loyal customers spreading the word about how great you are – which is surely the holy grail of successful business.

A man who clearly understood this concept was Julius Rosenwold, the driving force behind Sears (official name Sears, Roebuck and Co) becoming the worlds largest retailer, who once said: “My ambition is to stand at both sides of the counter at once.”

Another firm who also understand this appears to be Tesco. On Tuesday this week I bought some toothpaste from my local store. The rational for my brand choice was simple: it was buy-one-get-one-free!

However when I checked my receipt on the way out (I had brought some other items too) I realised I had been charged full price for both items. As soon as I complained about this to the very friendly customer services lady, she apologised and said that when such mistakes happen with Tesco’s price scanning technology, both items are free!

To coin a well used strap line, every little helps – and it certainly did in this situation. Tesco, I doth my virtual cap to your customer service!