public relations

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.