Guest Post: 2010 – The Year of the Ambush?

pringlesToday’s post is courtesy of guest blogger Kris Mathis, Founder of SponsorPitch.

This summer Wimbledon and the British Open offered up some of the richest sports viewing in quite some time. Unfortunately, they also brought the usual headaches for official marketers, courtesy of a few clever ambushers. Take for instance Hugo Boss’ branded sailboat garnering some significant broadcast exposure at the British Open or Pringles’ “These are not tennis balls!” sampling campaign just outside the gates of the All England Lawn Tennis Club.

If 2009 was the year of the cutback, 2010 may very well be the year of the ambush. There are many properties, and deep pocketed sponsors, that are out to make sure that doesn’t happen. Nevertheless, marketers continue to look for clever and cost-efficient ways to tie-in to major events like the World Cup and Olympics, while properties are seeking to vigorously defend their sponsors (and their value proposition) in a tighter spending environment. Good timing for Nicholas Burton and Simon Chadwick, who have been studying ambush marketing at Coventry University Business School in England. Burton and Chadwick recently looked at 350 potential ambush examples in an ongoing effort to define the practice, identify the ramifications of it and explore practical solutions for preventing it. It’s a highly recommended read for any high profile sponsor or property. Taking a step back, this is the definition that Wikipedia proposes for the common, but often maligned practice:

Ambush marketing is a marketing campaign that takes place around an event but does not involve payment of a sponsorship fee to the event. For most events of any significance, one brand will pay to become the exclusive and official sponsor of the event in a particular category or categories, and this exclusivity creates a problem for one or more other brands. Those other brands then find ways to promote themselves in connection with the same event, without paying the sponsorship fee and without breaking any laws.

So is it still ambush if there isn’t a direct competitor? Not according to the AELTC, who let the Pringles campaign continue and offered this reaction:

“Wimbledon does not have a deal with a comparable snack food, so there was no question of the Pringles tubes harming sales of a licensed product.”

Maybe not this year, but shouldn’t properties still do everything in their power to “signal” a harsh stance against ambush attempts? If nothing else, to assuage the concerns of future partners (and official sponsorship revenue)?

In Burton and Chadwick’s most recent white paper, A Typology of Ambush Marketing, they point out interestingly that the practice has evolved over time from broadcast sponsorship campaigns and billboard advertising around venue to more aggressive off-site strategies that go as far as to get fans to distribute the ambush marketer’s messages for them.  Click here to see a few of the more recent cases they cite.

Interestingly, of the cases they studied approximately 10% ended up in lawsuits or legal procedures of some nature. While many ambushers take special effort to skirt the legal boundaries, the report suggest that in some cases official properties and sponsors may have some success with proving misappropriation of goodwill or unfair competition. Intellectual property claims were also common among these cases. Unfortunately, legal remedies can often bring uncertain results, high costs and even more publicity to the offending party.

In 2004, John Crompton issued a report entitled “Sponsorship ambushing in sport” that outlined these categories of ambush:

  • the sponsorship of event broadcasts or television time around an un-sponsored event
  • the sponsorship of associated entities (other than the organizers/rights holders)
  • the use of advertising media near/in proximity of the event/venues
  • advertising using a theme or implied association
  • creating a competitive attraction to distract from the event
  • accidental ambushing of an event due to a lack of diligence on the part of the organizer

Chadwick and Burton build on this by classifying twelve (some new and some old) prevalent ambush strategies such as associative, insurgent, predatory, coat-tail ambush and even “pre-emptive” ambush, whereby an official sponsor essentially ambushes itself by buying up assets outside of its official rights to supplement the association and “pre-empt” an ambush.

As further research goes into the practice, properties and sponsors may be able to identify both proactive and reactive (read: legal) remedies for ambush practices. Of course, one way to prevent against ambush will always be to come up with the most compelling, mindshare dominating activation platform. As an official sponsor, you’re at an inherent advantage.

What’s your opinion on ambush marketing? Fair and ethical marketing tactic or illegal procedure?

2 thoughts on “Guest Post: 2010 – The Year of the Ambush?

  • August 6, 2009 at 2:22 pm
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    Very interesting post. If a company can find a legal way to get their brand out there for cheap, more power to them.

    Then again, if I was in sponsorship, I’m sure I would feel differently

  • August 6, 2009 at 8:27 pm
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    Legitimate sponsors will do well to create or seek to capitalise on the Ambush Marketing opportunities that present themselves.

    Done properly, clever acts of ambush leave longer lasting impressions in our minds and in the media than the branding that may occur at the events themselves.

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