Ambush marketing

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Ambush marketing is a marketing strategy wherein 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" ambush marketing[edit]

  • "Predatory" ambushing: Intentional false claims to official sponsorship by a non-sponsor and/or intentional false denial by a non-sponsor concerning a market competitor's official sponsorship, in each case with the intent to confuse consumers and gain market share from the competing official sponsor.
  • "Coattail" ambushing: The attempt by a brand to directly associate itself with a property or event by "playing up" a connection that is legitimate but does not involve financial sponsorship.
  • Ambushing via trademark/likeness infringement: The intentional unauthorized use of protected intellectual property. Such properties can include the logos of teams or events, or making use of unauthorized references to tournaments, teams or athletes, words and symbols.
  • Ambushing "by degree": Marketing activities by an official sponsor above and beyond what has been agreed on in the sponsorship contract. For example, an "ambush by degree" of a sports event may involve a sponsor's handing out free promotional T-shirts without the permission of the sports league supervising the event. That sponsor may have already covered the stadium with its signs, or the sports league or participating teams may have made an earlier agreement – perhaps even an exclusive one – to let a different sponsor hand out shirts. In either case, ambush by degree clutters the available marketing space; takes advantage of the participating teams and supervising league to a greater extent than they permitted; and dilutes the brand exposure of official sponsors, including the other promotional efforts of the ambushing company (hence the alternative term "self-ambushing").

"Indirect" ambush marketing[edit]

  • Ambushing "by association": The use of imagery or terminology not protected by intellectual-property laws to create an illusion that an organization has links to a sporting event or property — This form differs from direct "coattail" ambushing in that there exists no legitimate connection between the event/property and from direct ambush by infringement in that the sponsored event/property has no property rights in the images and/or words that create the illusion.
  • Values-based ambushing: Tailoring by a non-sponsor of its marketing practices to appeal to the same values or involve the same themes as do the event and/or its promotion, such that audiences attracted to the event or its marketing will likewise be attracted to the non-sponsor's marketing — Essentially a reversal from "push" to "pull" of the causal processes through which direct "coattail ambushers" create sponsor/event-unapproved mental association with their products, this form of ambushing differs from "ambushing by association" in that the ambushing business begins by observing the event's promotional scheme and drawing inferences as to its existing thematic content, as opposed to observing the event's audience and creating new thematic content in hopes that consumers will associate the event with the thematic content created.
  • Ambushing "by distraction": Setting up a promotional presence at or near an event, albeit without making specific reference to the event itself, its imagery, or its themes, in order to take advantage of the general public's attention toward the event and the audience members' awareness of their surroundings — This form of ambush amounts to "free riding" upon the positive externality that the event creates for the surrounding area by "anchoring" public and individual attention there; see also "Saturation ambushing" under "Incidental" ambush marketing.
    • "Insurgent" ambushing: The use of surprise street-style promotions (blitz marketing) at an event or near enough to it that the ambushing business can identify and target audience members — The "active" version of "passive" ambushing by distraction, insurgent ambushing not only takes advantage of positive externalities but creates negative externalities by intruding upon attendees' experiences of the event and detracting from those experiences' quality (cf. the distinction in biology between commensalism and parasitism).
    • "Parallel property" ambushing: The creation or sponsorship of an event or property that bears qualitative similarity to the ambush target and competes with it for the public's attention — An application of "ambushing by distraction" in which the ambusher-marketed product is the event/property itself, parallel-property ambushing does not intrude upon the experience of audience members (who remain free to attend whichever event or patronize whichever property they deem more attractive), but it does divert audience dollars and attendance figures from the preexisting event/property, interfering with the efforts of that event's/property's financial backers to recover their largely fixed production costs.

"Incidental" ambush marketing[edit]

  • Unintentional ambushing: It is possible for media coverage to make passing mention of, e.g., the manufacturer of an athlete's equipment/clothing or the provider of a service used by the event's technical staff or in-person audience. Although in most cases most members of an event's mass-media audience will not infer that the mentioned business is an official sponsor of the event, such that the mention is harmless "free publicity" for the non-sponsoring business, it is possible that some broadcast-audience members will at some point draw some inference of official sponsorship.
  • "Saturation" ambushing: "Saturation ambushers" increase their broadcast-media advertising and marketing at the time of an event but make no reference to the event itself and avoid any associative imagery or suggestion — Essentially a form of "ambushing by distraction" attenuated by the absence of advertisers' physical proximity to the event and their resulting lack of contact with in-person audience members, saturation ambushing merely capitalizes on the increased broadcast media attention and television audiences surrounding the event.[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]

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.[7]

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 making ambush marketing illegal) 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 media pundit Robbie Earle was fired from his role when it was claimed by FIFA that he had sold tickets meant for family and friends on to Bavaria.[11][12]

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.[13] 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 for a Boston Terrier dog named Sepp Blatter.[7]

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.[14]

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. However, 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.[15]

For the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, the London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Act 2006 contains provisions to attempt to restrict ambush advertising at the 2012 Summer Olympics and the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) announced that it would attempt to crack down on the relatively new form of online keyword ambush marketing.[16] 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.[17][18] 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.[19]

Once Sochi 2014 concluded, 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.,[20][21]

Prior to the Games, 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.[22][23] 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."[22]

For the 2011 Rugby World Cup and the 2015 Cricket World Cup, New Zealand has enacted laws to combat ambush marketing, according to former Sports Minister [2]



  1. ^ Jacqueline A. Leimer, 'Ambush Marketing: Not Just an Olympic-Sized Proglem', 2(4) Intell. Prop. Strategist 1, 3(1996).
  2. ^ a b
  3. ^ J. Thomas McCarthy, McCarthy on Trademarks and Unfair Competition, Fourth Edition
  4. ^ Lori L. Bean, 'Ambush Marketing: Sports Sponsorship Confusion and the Lanham Act', 75 BUL Rev. 1099, 1100(1995).
  5. ^
  6. ^ Simon Chadwick and Nicholas Burton, "New Definitions for Ambush Marketing", The Wall Street Journal ( - Business News & Financial News, 2010 October 20, available at
  7. ^ a b "Ingenious Ambush Campaigns From Nike, Samsung and BMW Make Official Sponsorships Look Like A Waste". Business Insider. Retrieved 18 August 2012. 
  8. ^ "Dutch fans given shorts for match". BBC News. 21 June 2006. Retrieved 7 May 2010. 
  9. ^ Gibson, Owen (16 June 2010). "World Cup 2010: Women arrested over 'ambush marketing' freed on bail". The Guardian (London). 
  10. ^ Kelly, Jon (17 June 2010). "How ambush marketing ambushed sport". BBC News Magazine (BBC). Retrieved 2010-06-21. 
  11. ^
  12. ^ "Robbie Earle sacked over World Cup tickets". BBC News. 16 June 2010. Retrieved 16 June 2010. 
  13. ^ "Fifa orders SA airline to pull ad". BBC News. 19 March 2010. 
  14. ^ "Samsung plays dirty, ambushes Apple's iPhone 4S launch in Sydney". The NExt Web. Retrieved 18 August 2012. 
  15. ^ "A Torchbearer's Commercial Coup". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 18 August 2012. 
  16. ^
  17. ^ Ambush Marketers Continue to Dominate London 2012
  18. ^ London 2012 Olympics Doing Its Best To Ambush Ambush Marketers
  19. ^ sponsors in branding battle for Sochi
  20. ^ Bull wins Sochi 2014 "Ambush Marketing" gold, says report
  21. ^ [1]
  22. ^ a b "London 2012 Olympics: Paddy Power seek a court order after Locog demand advertising posters be taken down". Telegraph. Retrieved 18 August 2012. 
  23. ^ "LOCOG U-turns over Paddy Power 'London' ads". Marketing Magazine. Retrieved 18 August 2012.