Ambush Marketing

The market place is fragmented with so many players. Companies are in queue to capture the same target market. The marketing space is crowded with various promotions and offers, bombarded ads, new techniques and tactics by advertising agencies, sponsorships, so many events etc. Big brands always spend millions in marketing and branding. Among that sponsorship plays a major role and believed to give great publicity to the brand. I’m not going to talk about sponsorship, but thought of writing a post about “Ambush Marketing” today.

People might wonder what Ambush Marketing is! Wikipedia defines Ambush Marketing as “a marketing strategy wherein the advertisers associate themselves with, and therefore capitalize on, a particular event without paying any sponsorship fee.”  From a theoretical perspective, Ambush Marketing refers to a company’s attempt to capitalize on the goodwill, reputation, and popularity of a particular event by creating an association with it, without the authorization or consent of the necessary parties.

So how this Ambush Marketing was born? During the year 1984, when the International Olympic committee decided to call for official sponsors for the event, it is believed that it brought a path way to Ambush Marketing. The first victims for Ambush Marketing were Fuji and Kodak. Actually Fuji bought the official sponsorship authority during the 1984 event, but Kodak brought the larger broadcast advertising space during the event. Though Fuji was the official sponsor for this event, the millions of viewers thought that Kodak was the official sponsors for the 1984 Olympics. In simple when a brand decides to be a sponsor for an event, at the same time if the similar rivals purchase more ad slots and go for large scale promotion around the event place than the sponsor, it is known as Ambush Marketing. It’s all about being vigilant about what’s going around as and capitalizing on them on the right time.

It is interesting to recap some of the global events where even big brands competed with Ambush Marketing strategy. During 1992 Winter Olympic though VISA was an official sponsor, American Express advertised saying “You no need a VISA to visit Spain”. Though there are several old examples for Ambush Marketing I thought of sharing the news ones, and pretty interesting ones.

During 2010 FIFA world cup beer official sponsor was Budweiser, however during a match between Denmark and Holland 36 girls who were wearing orange dresses removed from the stadium, where 3 were held by police for questioning. Though the Holland soccer fans normally wear orange dresses, FIFA organizers suspected the activity as an Ambush Marketing activity by another beer company, Bavarian, a direct competitor for Budweiser, the sponsor. See the video clip below to know more about this incident.

Also during 2012 Olympics, Beat Electronics grabs the attention of people, when it gave its head phones to the players to wear. Rather than the attention gave for the main sponsors, Beat Electronics got the maximum publicity without paying a single dollar for advertising. I came across this interesting cartoon with regarding to this particular incident.

How Ambush Marketing could happen?

1-     During an event when similar competitors advertise in mass scale than the event sponsors.

2-     In the event place when competitors try to grab the attention of people using marketing tactics such as rallies, hoardings, bill boards, drink vans and other promotional modes.

3-     During an event when the event participant endorse a brand which is not the main sponsor of the event. Example during 1996 Olympics when Micheal Jordan posed with Nike shoes and metals though Adidas was the official sponsor of the event.


4-     During an event if the fans / participants start acting in favour of another brand which is actually not an event sponsor. Example Bavarian beer girls.

So the question could be, is it an ethical marketing practice? What I would say is yes unless if the organizing party or the host accepts the ads and promotional activities by a rival after mentioning the exclusive sponsorship / promotional partner. Also if there is no trademark breach it cannot be considered illegal. The only way to prevent Ambush Marketing is to define clear sponsorship details. Exclusive sponsorship would do it, and same rival firm should not be allowed to advertise / do promotions in a major event. But a country like Sri Lanka, the market is small compared to other countries. If one firm is sponsoring an event the similar rivals could be allowed for advertising but in a limited manner is acceptable.

In Sri Lanka there are many brands who can’t sponsor for major events like other big multinational brands, but it’s still worth to think the smartest way of capturing the attention of audience at no cost or low cost. For them Ambush Marketing is a perfect way to out beat the top competition. But before you think about doing Ambush Marketing the firms should know the legal implications in Sri Lanka. Apart from that it should be ready to take over criticism from the marketing world. But still Nike leads the crew of Ambush Marketing, it is because what they did was Ambush Marketing, but they did it in a smart way.

In a nutshell what helps you to overcome any criticisms and legal implication is being smart and doing something very smart.