Ambush Marketing and the Sporting World

Posted in Marketing & Strategy Articles, Total Reads: 4109 , Published on 04 February 2011

Imagine a scenario where a particular company has made a huge investment to be associated with an event. Apart from creating an awareness around that event they would have spent a lot on coming up with marketing campaigns revolving around the event and their brand. However as the event draws closer, a rival brand ambushes their plan and makes it look like an event that they have sponsored. Welcome to the world of Ambush Marketing.


Ambush Marketing

Ambush marketing is more common during sporting events and there have been cases of ambush marketing during every major sporting event across the world. Ambush marketing can be defined wherein a company pays to be an official sponsor of an event but another rival brand tries to override it by cleverly connecting with the event. All this is done without paying sponsorship fee or neither doing anything illegal. So with now a major sporting event just about to begin in our country it would be apt to actually find out the ways in which it were done in the past and whether it can happen during the World Cup 2011.

Some of the famous ambush marketing incidences which has happened in the history are

During 2000 Sydney Olympics Qantas Airlines coined the slogan ‘The Spirit of Australia’ which was strikingly similar to the games slogan ‘Share the Spirit’. In this case Ansett Air was at the receiving end of ambush marketing

During 1984 Olympics, Kodak sponsors the TV broadcast of the games even though Fuji is the official sponsor. However Kodak got the taste of their medicine when Fuji did the same during the Seoul Olympics of 1988.

In 1996 Atlanta Olympics Nike avoided sponsoring the event but was one of the most recognized brand during the games. They erected huge billboards in the entire city, handed out free banners to the spectators and erected a Nike centre across the stadium.

Even during the first IPL season, Pepsi was the official sponsor for the league but Coca Cola adopted ambush marketing tactics by tying up with KKR as the official pouring partner. For e.g.  Sehwag and Gambhir was endorsing Pepsi but had to attend a ceremony organized by Coke as it was the sponsor of Delhi Daredevils

That brings to a question why do the companies adopt these strategies during sporting extravaganzas. One of the reasons is because of the huge amount of eyeballs that events can draw. Each of these events can draw a television viewership of billions and the number of people actually visiting these events would be in a few millions. So that being the case it becomes a prime target for ambush marketing.

However till recently these actions were not punishable under law but with the scale of the sporting events the organizers have started understanding the need to have laws in place. FIFA and Olympic association have come up with anti ambush strategies and UK parliament has gone a step further and passed a legislation to prevent ambush marketing during London Olympics 2012.

Now ambush marketing is in news for cricket world cup 2011 for similar reasons.


The International Cricket Council has cracked the whip on players indulging knowingly or unknowingly in ambush marketing, by threatening to throw them out of the World Cup starting in Dhaka on February 19. "Any squad member that knowingly or unknowingly breaches the squad terms may face sanctions ranging from financial penalties through to being excluded from continued participation in the event," ICC's legal head David Becker said in a memo to all international players and cricket boards regarding guidelines for endorsements and commercials around the World Cup.

It has already rung the alarm bells in the player camps with Sachin Tendulkar, Harbhajan Singh , Yuvraj singh have already setting up  meetings with BCCI.(Source TOI)


That brings us to a question of whether it is ethical on the part of the companies to adopt these strategies.  However it is difficult question to answer as there is nothing wrong for a rival brand to market their brand during a major event. Though the intention would be to harm the prospects of the official sponsor it would be hard to prove it. It is basically a last ditch attempt by the companies to market themselves when no other form is available. Thus ethical marketing is violated.

One of the company which has achieved a cult status in the field of ambush marketing is Nike. They rarely sponsor an entire event but instead sponsor individual teams and earn the maximum mileage. Right from 1984 Olympics to 1996 Olympics, they have got a decent amount of exposure in every multi nation tournaments. Even though they haven’t been an official sponsor the research conducted during every game suggests that people think they are one of the major sponsors for these events.

However there is no clear answer on whether it is right or wrong but this type of marketing is a clever step to avoid huge costs associated with official sponsorship. Marketing was never and will never be a gentle industry and brands will always try to outdo each other with innovative marketing strategies. And at the end of the day every company would say that they are playing the game well within the rules.



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