Ambush Marketing: Striking When The Iron Is Hot

Posted in Marketing & Strategy Articles, Total Reads: 5247 , Published on 11 May 2012
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Nike unveiled the three-minute “Write the Future” film shortly before the Football World Cup, 2010. The film, featuring some of the world’s best football players such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney and Ronaldinho captured the true spirit of football and the emotions attached with it. It was delivered in short teaser videos in the run-up to the FIFA World Cup and aired across 32 countries. Football fans could also view the film online at Nike’s website, on Facebook and YouTube.


The campaign was hugely successful. It had 3 million views in the first week. So far, 14 million viewers have enjoyed the video online. The strange thing was though, that Adidas, and not Nike was the official sponsor of FIFA 2010. Surprised? Welcome to the world of Ambush Marketing.

Ambush Marketing is not new. Way back in 1984 Kodak sponsored TV broadcast of the Olympic Games, despite Fujifilm being the official sponsor.

Ambush Marketing is one of the most creative forms of marketing where companies connect themselves with a prestigious event without paying any sponsorship fee. In the process they create a picture of an association between the brand and the event in the minds of the consumers. A recent survey conducted by The Nielsen Company showed that Nike’s “Write the Future” campaign had led people to misunderstand Nike as the official sponsor of FIFA. In effect, Nike gained more benefits than Adidas, which had paid millions to be the official sponsor.

HIGHEST SHARE OF ONLINE WORLD CUP BUZZ (Sponsors vs. Competitors)

Rank

Brand

Type

% Share of Official and Competitor Buzz

1

Nike

Non-affiliated Competitor

30.2%

2

Adidas

FIFA Partner

14.4%

3

Coca-Cola

FIFA Partner

11.8%

4

Sony

FIFA Partner

11.7%

5

Visa

FIFA Partner

7.3%

6

Carlsberg

Non-affiliated Competitor

3.9%

7

McDonald’s

FIFA World Cup Sponsor

2.8%

8

Pepsi

Non-affiliated Competitor

2.5%

9

Hyundai/Kia

FIFA Partner

2.4%

10

Panasonic

Non-affiliated Competitor

1.9%

Source: The Nielsen Company

Thus Nike was able to capitalize effectively on the popularity, reputation and the goodwill of the event without paying the sponsorship fee!


In another such incident, Bavaria, a Dutch beer company was involved in an ambush marketing stunt at the Football World Cup 2010. Around 36 fans wore orange mini-dresses as a part of the campaign. The beer brand gained a lot of publicity through the stunt. According to Experian HitWise, the site received a “spike in traffic” after the game and was the fifth most visited beer website in the UK on the day of the campaign.

Ambush marketing has been mostly observed in association with sporting events, mainly due to their wide popularity. It is a widely debated subject because of its very nature. Marketers are accused of attracting customers at the expense of competitors by this form of marketing. Some argue that the practise is unethical, as it dilutes the benefits received by the official sponsor - a company that has paid a huge sum to be the official sponsor of an event.

In 1996, Coke paid a fortune for the right to call itself the official sponsor of the World Cup. Its arch rival Pepsi promptly launched a massive advertising campaign, based on the catch-line: “Nothing Official About It”. The Pepsi campaign captured the public imagination - and Coke, the official sponsor, lost out.

There are also concerns that ambush marketing may reduce the value of official sponsorships and lead to high-profile sponsor withdrawals, which in turn will lead to a decrease in sponsorship funding. The most common response has been to devise contracts barring players from associating themselves with marketing campaigns of rival sponsors for a certain time period. ICC presently has a similar contract with its players.

In spite of the flak that it faces, no one can deny the effectiveness of ambush marketing campaigns. Their recall value also tends to be very high. To marketers, they represent ultimate challenge and opportunity all at once. The radical thinking and exciting advertising find easy popularity and acceptance.


Clearly, ambush marketing is not piracy. Neither is it illegal. Piracy means a blatant copy of another company’s logo or slogan. In case of ambush marketing, a company does not copy its rival in any way. It simply does its best to take advantage of an available opportunity to promote its brand. It is all about striking at the right moment.  Companies can break clutter and get noticed through ads like these.

At times ambush marketing is not only targeted towards customers – it may simply be a marketing tussle between two companies. A very creative ambush marketing campaign was led by Dove (HUL) against Pantene (P&G) in response to its "Mystery Shampoo" campaign.


On July 23, India woke up to hoardings that said: 'A Mystery Shampoo!! 80% women say is better than anything else'.  P&G, it was later found, was planning to unveil the new Pantene on August 1. When Hindustan Unilever (HUL), their biggest competitor in India got wind of their plans, they answered with a quick, witty reply. On July 28, even as the P&G hoardings stood tall, another hoarding was upfront too. It said “There is no mystery. Dove is the No.1 shampoo.  This was one instance of ambush marketing, which has received applause due to its sheer cheek.

So is it morally correct? The answer to this question depends on who is being asked. Companies who pay millions to be the official sponsors feel violated. Ambush marketers on the other hand say that paying money to be the official sponsor of an event does not provide a company with the sole “ownership” of all avenues leading to the public’s awareness of the event. Neither does it provide the sponsor the exclusive rights to the entire consumer mind space.

In a free market they consider it fair to use any strategy to promote their brand in the most cost-effective way possible. Also, failure on the part on the official sponsor to aggressively promote its brand automatically leaves scope for ambush marketing.

In the words of one former Nike marketer: "If companies aren't aggressive in promoting their sponsorships, then they should be ambushed. Sponsors should dominate all of the public relations, advertising and promotions. Blitz the town where the event is held, buy up all the billboards. Make sure that everyone knows you are the sponsor. Do this and the ambusher looks like a big player. If you are sloppy, then maybe an ambush will force you to become a better marketer..."

This article has been authored by Rubayet Chakraborty and Ahana Chakraborty from NITIE.

Image: Idea go / FreeDigitalPhotos.net


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