Ambush marketing

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Ambush marketing is a marketing strategy in which the advertisers associate themselves with, and therefore capitalize on, a particular event without paying any sponsorship fee.[1][2][3][4]


The word "ambush" as used in the expression ambush marketing, means "an attack from a hidden position" and is derived from the old French verb embuschier, having the meaning "to place in a wood."[2] The term "ambush marketing" was coined by marketing strategist Jerry Welsh, while he was working as the manager of global marketing efforts for the American Express Company in the 1980s.[5]

Types of ambush marketing[edit]

Direct forms of ambush marketing encompass means for a non-sponsor to directly connect themselves to an event. Predatory marketing involves fraudulent claims by a non-sponsor that it is the official sponsor of an event, without having any ties or official authorization from an event's organizers to serve as or identify itself as an official sponsor. Such predatory ambushes also involve making direct references to trademarks in an effort to imply an official association with the event—confusing consumers into believing the non-sponsor is an official sponsor.[6] An official sponsor may also ambush "by degree"—performing a larger amount of promotional activities at an event than what was originally authorized by the event's organizers (such as distributing shirts, but only having a deal for advertising on signage), especially if the efforts compete directly with sponsors performing similar activities with authorization from the organizers. These activities dilute the exposure of official sponsors and their respective campaigns.[6]

A company may also perform direct ambush marketing by riding coattails—associating themselves with an event by factually marketing their role in connection to it. For example, a company which produces sporting equipment may advertise that they are the supplier for a specific athlete or team. A similar acknowledgment of a non-sponsor's involvement with the participants in an event by, for example, a television commentator, can also be considered an incidental form of coattail marketing.[7][6][6]

Indirect ambush marketing often involves the use of imagery and themes in advertising that evoke a mental association with an event, but without making specific references to the event itself or its trademarks. In essence, the non-sponsor markets itself using content that evokes the same values which the event itself and materials from official sponsors express, and as a result, appeal to those who are aware of the event.[6] Similarly, a non-sponsor may use "distractive" techniques to divert consumers' attention away from the actual event and its official sponsors using similarly indirect means; for instance, a non-sponsor may "ride off" the draw of a major event by saturating the area at or around its venue with a competing marketing presence. Such "saturation marketing" may either be indirectly related to the event, or be incidental and make no references at all. In some cases, a company may sponsor or create a similar "parallel property", designed to compete directly with a major property also by evoking similar thematics.[6]

Impacts of Ambush marketing[edit]

Increasing cost of sponsorships: The increasing cost of sponsorships has also increased sponsor's emphasis on return on investment. If sponsored events do not give exclusivity, the sponsor's interest on sponsorship property will be lost and the damage will extend to the whole sponsorship market. Yet when that exclusivity is lost, the value of sponsorship is also lost. When a company engages in ambush marketing the exclusivity intended to be conferred through sponsorship to a sponsor is lost. Hence, the value of sponsorship is also lost. As it is an undeniable fact that corporate sponsorship is one of the biggest money-spinning sources of revenue for the event organizers, the loss in sponsorship value will affect the financial strength of an event organizer.

Transgression on the intellectual property rights: Even when the ambush marketers are not making any direct references to the protected intellectual property rights, they in effect transgress those intellectual property rights by attempting to capitalize on such hard earned goodwill from an event. Direct and indirect references to the event symbol or the event itself are just different means for achieving illegal transgression on the rights of event organizers. Moreover, sponsors cannot get the return they anticipated.

Limitation to freedom of expression: Specific regulations (and/or laws) demanded by sponsors to guarantee their exclusive rights limit the freedom of expression of visitors to events (e.g. those who have been given free goods by the ambush marketeer). It is still undecided whether the commercial rights of sportsorganisers and sponsors trump the universal human rights issues involved.

Notable examples[edit]


During a game at the 2006 FIFA World Cup, fans were asked to remove "Leeuwenhosen" colored in the orange of the Netherlands national football team, distributed and branded by Bavaria Brewery, because the brewery was not an official sponsor of the event (Budweiser was the official beer sponsor). Officials distributed orange-colored shorts to fans affected by the requirement.[8] Bavaria Brewery was again accused of ambush marketing at the 2010 FIFA World Cup, when 36 female fans were ejected from a game (along with the arrest of two, later released, accused of violating the "Contravention of Merchandise Marks Act", a law passed in South Africa for the World Cup that enforced legal restrictions on marketing activities) for wearing unbranded orange miniskirts that were provided by Bavaria; Sylvie van der Vaart, wife of Dutch player Rafael van der Vaart had modeled one of the miniskirts in an advertising campaign for the brewery.[9][10] ITV Sport pundit Robbie Earle was also fired when it was claimed by FIFA that he had sold tickets meant for family and friends on to Bavaria.[11]

Also at the 2010 FIFA World Cup, South African budget airline Kulula pulled an advertisement that FIFA claimed was creating an unauthorized association with the tournament. The advertisement had described themselves as "Unofficial National Carrier of the You-Know-What" and contained images of stadiums, vuvuzelas and national flags—symbols which FIFA claimed were considered ambush marketing when used together.[12] Kulula poked fun at the objections in subsequent ads, one which deliberately replaced the items from the first ad with similarly shaped items (such as disco balls and golf tees) and claiming the ad was for something "not next year, not last year, but somewhere in between." In a related stunt, Kulula announced it would offer free flights to anyone named "Sepp Blatter"; the offer was redeemed by a dog who shared its name with the current president of FIFA.[13]

In October 2014, the U.S. National Football League fined player Colin Kaepernick for wearing headphones produced by Apple Inc. subsidiary Beats Electronics (a company who Kaepernick has appeared in advertising for) during post-game activities. The action violated NFL rules, which forbid players from wearing products from non-sponsors during games, practices, and pre/post-game media appearances. His actions violated the exclusive sponsorship rights of Bose Corporation, who had become an official sponsor of the NFL as of the 2014 season.[14][15]

The Quebec-based home improvement chain Rona ambushed an advertisement in the "Nano-chromatic" campaign for the iPod Nano by placing a banner under it showing the paint dripping from the iPods falling into paint cans, advertising its paint recycling services.[13]


During the opening ceremony of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, former Olympic gymnast Li Ning was the final torchbearer and ultimately lit the flame at Beijing National Stadium. Li Ning is also the founder of a domestic shoe company of the same name. While the Li Ning company was not an official sponsor of the games, it had still associated itself with the games through its role as an equipment supplier for several Chinese Olympic teams, and through Li Ning's status as both a Chinese sports and business icon. However, Ning was, per its sponsorship rights, required to wear footwear from competitor Adidas during the ceremony.[7]

Prior to the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, the organizing committee LOCOG demanded the removal of advertisements for the betting company Paddy Power which announced that it was the official sponsor of "the largest athletics event in London this year", an egg-and-spoon race in the French village of London, Burgundy. LOCOG reversed its decision after Paddy Power threatened to take the organizers to court.[16][17] When announcing the planned lawsuit, a Paddy Power spokesmen quipped that "It's a pity they didn't put the same energy in to the ticketing and security arrangements for the Games that they put into protecting their sponsorship revenue streams."[16]

Following the Games, a study by the Global Language Monitor found that many non-affiliated brands, such as Subway, Red Bull, and Sony are among the top rated on GLM's Brand Affiliation Index (BAI). The BAI measures the perceived relationship between the Games and the particular brand.[18][19] In September 2013, the Global Language Monitor released an update for Sochi 2014. P&G, Samsung and GE led the Worldwide Partners but trailed non-affiliated marketers Philips, Siemens and Adidas. When measured by the BAI,10 of the top 15 spots were occupied by the non-affiliated marketers – with the bottom five spots all held by top sponsors.[20]

Following the 2014 Winter Olympics Red Bull had scored the highest overall BAI, while worldwide Olympic partners Procter & Gamble and Samsung followed in second and third place. P&G and Samsung both had critically acclaimed marketing campaigns that were well received by international audiences. Ambusher Subway took fourth place, besting Coke and Panasonic. Non-affiliated brands Rolex, Unilever and Siemens followed. Meanwhile, the last three spots on the table were occupied by Olympic sponsors, Visa Card, Omega and Atos. GLM noted that Burton Snowboards and Apple Computer also made an impression with the worldwide audience.,[21][22]


In October 2011, Samsung ambushed the Australian launch of the iPhone 4S by setting up pop-up store near Sydney's Apple Store; where it sold its flagship Galaxy S II smartphone to the first 10 people in line daily at a discount price of $2 AUD.[23]


In response to the threats of ambush marketing and other forms of trademark infringement, organizers of major sporting events have sometimes required host countries or cities to implement special laws that provide regulations and penalties for advertisers who disseminate marketing materials that create unauthorized associations with an event, or partake in unauthorized commercial activity.

Organizers may require a city to set up "clean zones" in and around venues, in which advertising and commerce is restricted to those that are authorized by both the city and the event's organizer; for example, the event's organizers may only allow advertising and vendor presences by companies that are official sponsors, and ban any promotional activity by non-sponsors within a certain radius of the event site.[24][25][26] The American Civil Liberties Union has opposed such practices on several occasions; prior to both Super Bowl XLVII and the 2014 Major League Baseball All-Star Game, the organization sued both the cities of New Orleans and Minneapolis for enforcing such laws, arguing that they were unconstitutional for banning protected speech. In response to the lawsuit, New Orleans did amend its clean zone ordinance to allow non-commercial protected speech within the clean zones.[27][25]

Prior to the 2011 Rugby World Cup, New Zealand passed the "Major Events Management Act", which prohibits any promotional use of words, emblems, and concepts implying association with events designated as "major" by the federal government, without permission from the event's organizers. The law also provides the ability for protected areas to be set up around event sites for the purposes of enforcing these advertising rules and providing crowd control.[28][29][30] London passed similar laws prior to the 2012 Summer Olympics, banning the promotional use of the words "2012" and "Games", either together, or with words or concepts relating to the event, such as "Gold", "Silver", "Bronze", "Medals", "Summer", "Sponsors", or "London", by companies that were not official sponsors of the Games. LOCOG also announced plans to enforce these rules in the keyword advertising market.[31] The law was criticized by local politicians, along with the Chartered Institute of Marketing, for being overly broad, "draconian", and unnecessary to enforce the IOC's exclusive sponsorship rights.[32][33]



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  21. ^ Bull wins Sochi 2014 "Ambush Marketing" gold, says report
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