A Bird in the Hand is Worth Two in the Ambush
You have probably heard these sayings a time or two: “Nice guys finish last.” “The early bird catches the worm.” “He who laughs last, laughs best.” These familiar idioms could all be associated with running a successful ambush marketing campaign.
Ambush marketing is a marketing campaign that occurs around a public event, typically a major sporting event, and involves circumventing payment of a sponsorship fee. Many companies pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to sponsor an event, the primary benefit of which is exclusive advertising rights before a large, captive audience. Sports Marketing experts Simon Chadwick & Nicholas Burton, of the Centre for the International Business of Sport located at the Coventry University Business School in the United Kingdom, estimate the amount spent on exclusive sponsorships last year at $43.5 billion dollars (billion with a B). Ambush marketing occurs when competing companies promote their brands despite the fact that another company has paid to market their brand as an official event sponsor. Venue and event owners are left scrambling to come up with an effective deterrent in response.
Here are a few noteworthy examples. During the 1992 Summer Olympics, American Express Co. (“AMEX”) ran a television commercial showing scenes of Barcelona, Spain, the host city that year with a message that said “You don’t need a visa” to visit Spain. Visa was the official sponsor, and while Visa complained, AMEX declared that the commercials were not referring to the Olympics, and were not an attempt to ambush Visa’s marketing efforts. Visa took no official action.
In 1996, at the Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia, British sprinter Linford Christie wore contact lenses bearing the Puma logo at a press conference held before the 100 meters final. Reebok had paid $40 million to be the official sponsor of the games.
At the 2006 World Cup games, fans of the team from Netherlands sported orange lederhosen which had been provided by Bavaria Brewery. Stadium officials responded by forcing those wearing the brightly-colored trousers to remove them if they wanted to be permitted inside the stadium. Budweiser was the official beer.
In November of 2009, Philadelphia Eagles tight end, Brent Celek raised his right knee in the end zone, in the familiar Captain Morgan stance following a touchdown reception, reportedly in exchange for a $10,000 donation to the Gridiron Greats charity fund that assists retired NFL players. Celek was not disciplined, but the NFL made it clear that any future tributes to “The Captain” would be penalized.
Most recently, during the World Cup match between Netherlands vs. Denmark on June 16th, Bavaria was at it again. During the match, nearly 40 Dutch women stripped out of the clothes they had worn into the stadium to reveal orange mini-dresses underneath. The mini dresses incorporated the color of the Dutch national team, but also bore a tiny logo identifying Bavaria brand beer. This would have been just fine were it not for the fact that Budweiser was the official beer of the games. The two ladies considered the leaders of the great orange mini-dress debacle were arrested by Johannesburg police and had their passports confiscated. ITV pundit Robbie Earle also lost his job when it was revealed that he had provided the tickets to the group (Mr. Earle contends that he was unaware of the ambush marketing scheme and did not profit from it in any way). Charges against the ladies have since been dropped, their passports were returned, and Bavaria has entered into a confidential settlement agreement with FIFA. While poor Mr. Earle may be unemployed, the "net" is still buzzing about Bavaria. In fact, that infamous orange dress was also made available for purchase on Bavaria’s website.
Now who has the last laugh?