Ambush Marketing: Pros and Cons

Stripo / Glossary / Ambush Marketing: Pros and Cons

Creativity and bravery can allow you to associate your company or brand with a sporting event at a minimal cost. What is ambush marketing? Definition, examples, and best practices.

What is ambush marketing?

A lot of companies dream of sponsoring sports events. But not all of them can afford this. Luckily for these companies, they only need to have creative marketers who can, at minimal cost, associate their company or brand with a specific sporting event. This is how “ambush marketing” appeared — a technique that allows you to make people associate your brand with a certain sporting event without paying sponsorship fees.

Benefits of ambush brand sponsorship:

  • lack of sponsorship fees;

  • the opportunity to implement creative ideas;

  • you don’t need to monitor and control compliance with sponsorship agreements.

But at the same time, ambush marketing has its drawbacks.

Disadvantages of ambush brand sponsorship: 

  • the need to look for a gap in the activities of the official sponsor;

  • difficulty of implementation;

  • failure to comply with the rules of "fair play", which may affect brand’s reputation;

  • in some cases — companies might get involved in unlawful actions, if done wrong;

  • unpredictable ROI (return on investment).

Is ambush marketing legal?

By using ambush marketing the wrong way, companies can violate the law. Among the most common non-compliances are event owner's trademarks, copyright, and other rights violations. 

To keep everything legal:

  • don’t use actual names, logos, and slogans of events;

  • don’t mention words "Supporter", "Sponsor", or "Partner" in your campaign;

  • don’t organize giveaways of tickets to the event. 

Ambush marketing examples

All the ambush techniques are divided into three groups: direct, indirect, and incidental ambush marketing. 

Direct ambush marketing examples in sports:

  1. Predation — intentional false claims of official sponsorship by another company or deliberate false denials of the official sponsor's slogan. In both cases, aimed at misleading the consumer and capturing the audience’s attention. One notable example is the Cricket World Cup 1996, during which Pepsi ran a series of advertising campaigns called “Nothing official about it,” striking a blow at Coca-Cola’s official sponsorship.

  2. Tailcoat — directly associating your brand with a sporting event by connecting to the event legally, but without financial sponsorship. For example, while the official sponsor’s slogan is "Official sponsor of the UEFA Champions League", the competitor can have the motto “Official sponsor of the Polish fans at the UEFA Champions League”. 

  3. Trademark marketing/infringement of similarity — the intentional use of the protected intellectual property. Like the use of logos of the competition or the teams. For example, the low-cost airline Kulula was punished by FIFA for putting on its aircraft decorations with a Cape Town stadium, soccer balls, and symbols of the upcoming World Cup in South Africa in 2010. Moreover, Kulula also used the slogan "Unofficial national carrier of the 'you-know-what’".

  4. Marketing of "degree of sponsorship" — marketing activities of the official sponsor exceeding his capabilities prescribed in the sponsorship agreement. For example, the official sponsor of the competition gives away free T-shirts with their logo without the approval of the tournament organizers. At the same time, another sponsor has paid permission to give out free T-shirts with their logos.

Indirect ambush marketing examples:

  1. “Associations” — the use of symbols or terminology not protected by intellectual property law in order to create the illusion that a brand is connected to a sporting event. At the FIFA World Cup in South Africa, the Dutch brand Bavaria made a clever move by dressing the Netherlands fans in shorts with a tail. Thus, they resembled a lion — the Bavaria brand symbol. The official World Cup’s beer was the trademark Budweiser, and other beer companies were not allowed to advertise themselves during the World Cup. FIFA representatives forced the fans of the Dutch team to remove their shorts and watch the match in their underwear.

  2. "Distraction" — the promotional presence of a company or brand at the event or near the event even without creating connections between oneself and a sporting event. In 2009, during a Britishopen golf tournament in Scotland, the Hugo Boss company parked their yacht near the place where the tournament was held. So that the yacht constantly appeared on the TV that broadcasted the tournament.

Incidental ambush marketing example:

  1. A situation when consumers think that a brand is a sponsor, but the brand did nothing to establish such a connection. Sometimes the media can mention equipment or clothing used by a team, and people can start thinking about the company as an official sponsor of the event. Speedo, for example, was mentioned frequently during the Beijing Games due to the success of swimmers wearing its LZR Racer swimsuits. In marketing studies after the Games, consumers incorrectly identified Speedo as a sponsor. Such incidents can distract rights-holders and organizers from defending sponsors against direct threats.

Ambush marketing is an original and cheap way to drive attention to your brand during sports events. But, at the same time, ambush marketing causes significant harm to the official sponsors of sporting events, often not allowing them to get all the expected benefits and profits from sponsorship. This is where the talk about the legality of the "ambush attack" begins. 

Since a successful ambush strategy can only be implemented through ill-conceived or inappropriate sponsorship, in this respect, ambush marketing is a natural result of healthy competition. Its healing sponsorship effect is that over the long term, through anti-ambushing campaigns, the benefits of sponsorship become more valuable to the sponsor, and advertising methods rise to a higher level in the process of competition.

In fact, the opposition of ambush marketing and official sponsorship constantly improves the quality of the latter. Who will win this marketing war? The answer is quite obvious — the one who cares about the consumer the most.