Ambush Marketing and the World Cup

Any PR is good PR. I’m sure we have all heard of that infamous phrase. In short, it basically means that public exposure in a positive or negative light will boost awareness if nothing else. Just tune into an episode of TMZ and you’ll quickly see how Lindsay Lohan’s publicized and frequent walks of shame from her Escalade to the courthouse provide increased exposure of her as a ‘brand’. Whether you think she is out of control or not, her negative PR has in the very least, made you aware of who she is. The same theme translates over to the dark arts of ambush marketing. For those who haven’t heard the term before, ambush marketing is a marketing strategy in which a company aligns itself with a particular event or experience without paying any sponsorship fees. A company might use underhanded tactics that will get them in hot water but if they do it right, the PR will help increase their brand awareness. While ambush marketing can be seen at many levels, large-scale international events most always attract ambush marketers like bees to honey. After all, it seems like a no-brainer for a brand/company trying to tap into an event’s worldwide exposure without paying hundreds of millions of dollars. Ethics aside, it is a fascinating aspect of our globalized marketing landscape. And the upcoming World Cup in Brazil offers arguably the greatest international exposure and will almost certainly feature creative ambush marketing strategies that will catapult the culprit’s brand awareness while infuriating the event’s officially-recognized sponsors. There have been dozens of memorable ambush marketing examples in the past in all sorts of international events but since the World Cup is upon us why don’t we turn to South Africa in 2010 for an example. During a match between Denmark and Holland, 36 attractive women in bright orange mini-skirts descended upon the crowd and stole the show by standing, dancing, and waving their arms in the air. What’s the problem you might be asking? Well, they weren’t exactly there for the party atmosphere.

Allegedly sent by the Dutch beer company, Bavaria, they ambushed the match to subtly promote the Bavaria brand. The dresses only featured a tiny outer label with the Bavaria name but just before the World Cup, the Dutch beer company made sure the dresses had instant brand association by arranging to have one modelled by the well-known wife of Dutch midfielder, Rafael van der Vaart in advertising spots. Budweiser, as official beer sponsor and with tens of millions less in their coffers for the privilege, complained to FIFA and the ladies were swiftly escorted out of the stadium. Meanwhile, with the first kick-off just underway, sugary beverage giants Coca-Cola and Pepsi are engaged in a war for eyeballs that could set the stage for some creative ambush marketing efforts in Brazil. Coca-Cola, official World Cup sponsor since 1978, will contribute some $100 million for the privilege while rival Pepsi is not an official sponsor. Coca-Cola has been ramping up the volume with their World Cup advertising campaigns that associate the company with the theme that soccer is the global game just as Coca-Cola is the global drink. Pepsi, in contrast but staying true to their history of music and pop-culture alignment, has responded with a portfolio of high-profile players (Messi, Ramos, van Persie, etc.) that they are placing in artistic ad campaigns that aim to emphasise the creative passion of players with music. Pepsi’s global chief marketing officer, Kristin Patrick: “We were inspired by the power and unity that sports brings to the world.” Brazil 2014 could provide Pepsi with the perfect battlefield for some sneaky yet potentially brilliant ambush-marketing. But having learned from past World Cups and with sponsorship fees higher than ever, you can be sure that FIFA and official sponsors will be vigilant to snuff out any potential grumblings of underhandedness. But is ambush-marketing really that unethical? Despite the fact that the law is not on their side, companies that carry out this technique usually have little to lose and lots to gain. If executed correctly, a brand can gain worldwide exposure without paying for it. Personally, I think it’s creative and in the dog-eat-dog landscape of marketing, all is fair. It may not be the most honest marketing tactic but a competitive edge has to come from somewhere. If Pepsi thinks it wiser to roll the dice with an ambush-marketing strategy as oppose to shelling out tens of millions for the peace of mind of guaranteed exposure, I say that’s their prerogative and good luck to them. The substantial fine that they might be forced to pay will pale in comparison to what they would have paid in sponsorship fees for the same exposure. With this year’s World Cup set to take place in the same time zone as the consumer-mad U.S market and combined with the networks anticipating record interest and viewership, you can be sure that someone who hasn’t paid a sponsorship fee will try to capitalize on such unique publicity. Whether it’s Pepsi riding Coke’s coattails or Nike profiteering from Adidas’ ad space, all the ingredients will be there for an epic ambush-marketing showdown. It will be interesting to see how the culprits will reveal themselves and what action is taken to supress such efforts. But let me throw it out to you guys, what do you think about ambush-marketing? Yes, large-scale international events rely on sponsorship fees to succeed. Yes, the companies that contribute these astronomical fees should be afforded some protection for their investment but can ambush-marketing really be squashed out completely? Officials can’t be everywhere at once and perhaps a strong effort that only sees a few seconds of television time can be enough to justify the risk. With the entire world focused on the World Cup, perhaps the ends justify the means for ambush-marketers.