Thirty-six blondes, wearing orange mini skirts gate crashed the game at Soccer City in Johannesburg causing a major brouhaha. The offense wasn’t so much a fashion faux pas but a carefully orchestrated ambush marketing attack by Dutch brewer Bavaria, against its bigger rival Budweiser. The spectacle created a frenzy as photographs and video footage went viral as the story was picked up on social media networks and newspapers around the world.
The reaction of FIFA was swift and ruthless. The authorities immediately evicted the women from the stadium and two were arrested on charges of organising "unlawful commercial activities". Under pressure from FIFA, South Africa passed laws in the run-up to the World Cup that made ambush marketing a criminal offence. The women face charges of contravening the Merchandise Marks Act (unauthorised use of trade mark at a protected event), and some sections of the Special Measures Regulations Act (entry into designated area while in possession of prohibited commercial object).
Anheuser Busch's Budweiser, as the World Cup's authorised beer sponsor, paid $50 million for the privilege of exclusive representation during the competition. Despite facing mounting criticism for what many describe as 'bullying' and 'autocratic' commercial tactics, FIFA remains unfazed, insisting the methods are necessary to protect the marketing rights of its official sponsors.
Sponsorship is big business, both for the brands splashing out and sporting governing bodies cashing in. The World Cup has kicked off to an amazing start and it’s expected that a cumulative global audience of 5 billion people will be watching. This means that there is massive potential exposure for companies that are able to outmanoeuvre competitors and work the system to their advantage. What you're now starting to see are strategic consultancies being asked by clients to plan and execute stealth ambush marketing campaigns. There are burgeoning industries on either side as organisers and sponsors not wanting to take any chances.
Over time, ambush marketing has crystallised into two forms, the first being by association. This occurs where the ambush marketer represents to the public that they are the authorised sponsor of an event.
In contrast to the above, ambush marketing by “intrusion” uses the publicity of an event to gain unauthorised exposure for his brand. Here, the ambush marketer does not suggest an association with the event but uses the captive audience of an event to gain maximum exposure for their product or services.
In both forms of ambush marketing, the marketer aims to use the event to advertise his product, whilst avoiding the financial and other obligations of an official sponsor.
Bavaria's campaign was a classic example of intrusive ambush marketing – it was meticulously planned and executed down to the finest detail. The mini-dresses, sold by the brewery as part of a gift pack, may only have had a tiny outer label carrying the brand's name. However prior to the stunt Bavaria had made sure that they would be instantly recognisable in the Netherlands by getting Dutch Wag, Sylvie van der Vaart -wife of Real Madrid's Rafael van der Vaart – to model it prior to the start of the tournament.
As would be expected, along with gigantic global viewership and increasingly prohibitive sponsorship costs, ambush marketing has developed into an art form. FIFA says such tactics "lack decency and creativity." Indecent? Possibly. Uncreative? Not at all!
Ambush Marketing in Action
1992 – Nike sponsors news conferences with the US basketball team. Michael Jordan accepts the gold medal for basketball and covers up his Reebok logo
1994 - American Express runs ads claiming Americans do not need "visas" to travel to Norway for the Visa-sponsored Winter Olympics
1996 - On the eve of the 100m final, Linford Christie wears Puma logo contact lenses at the Reebok-sponsored Olympics
1996 - Nike buys up billboard space around venues in the Atlanta Olympics, constructing Nike Village next door to the athletes' village and distributing flags bearing the company logo - swamping the visibility of Reebok
1996 - Cricket World Cup: Pepsi runs a series of advertisements titled "nothing official about it" targeting the official sponsor Coca Cola
2000 - Sydney Olympics: Qantas Airlines’ slogan "The Spirit of Australia" sounds strikingly similar to the games’ slogan "Share the Spirit’” paralyzing official-sponsor Ansett Air
2002 - Boston Marathon: Nike strikes again. As Adidas-sponsored runners come off the course they are treated to spray-painted ‘swooshes’ honouring the day of the race, but not the race itself.
2006 –World Cup Germany - Dutch fans are forced to watch a match in their underpants because their orange lederhosen were deemed to be advertising Bavaria beer, when Budweiser was once again the official sponsor
2008 - Fashion label Abercrombie & Fitch strategically positions its logo behind Barack Obama at a Democratic primary election rally
2008 Beijing Olympics: former Olympic gymnast Li Ning (owner of China’s largest sports shoe company) lights the torch at the opening ceremony, much to the chagrin of official sponsor Adidas
2010 - In the run up to the World Cup, South African budget airline Kulula, is forced to stop a creative advertising campaign titled “Unofficial National Carrier of the You-Know-What” and to remove all symbols associated with the World Cup including visual imagery of South African flag, vuvuzelas, stadiums, and even the phrase “2010.”
What’s interesting is that you don’t have to be a David to be successful in the guerrilla genre. Goliaths like Nike, with their marketing skill and financial reserves are probably the greatest ambush marketers of all time. Nike has made a strategic decision to eschew event sponsorship and cast itself as the plucky underdog in contrast with the likes of Adidas.
At this year’s World Cup, Nike’s back-door marketing strategy has shown to be a bigger sensation with the fans than the World Cup’s official sponsor, Adidas.
Nike’s multi-million dollar advertising campaign, Write the Future, showcasing players like Wayne Rooney from England and Cristiano Ronaldo from Portugal has been viewed more than 16 million times on You Tube. Also nine out of 32 teams are sporting Nike gear, which is only three teams short than the official sponsor, Adidas.
Adidas has spent about US $351 million for sponsorship rights to the World Cup tournaments in 2010 and 2014 while Nike has not paid a single cent to FIFA. Research shows that 17% of people remember Nike as a World Cup Sponsor as compared to the 15% of Adidas. Also, a month before the World Cup, one third of the talk online was focused on Nike – almost twice as much as rival Adidas.
Meanwhile ThinkTank’s South African office reports that the local marketing and advertising agencies are fed up with FIFA’s fiefdom and tight control over every aspect of the World Cup. Several local companies expecting a windfall from the World Cup say that it has simply not materialised. A Cape Town artist has captured the zeitgeist of public sentiment, designing a provocative new range of T shirts with the caption ‘Fick Fufa.’ It’s the latest satirical dig at the world soccer body in a growing flood of impatience with FIFA’s draconian branding rules and its mafia-like control of the country's public spaces. In the comedic political parody ZA News, (www.zanews.co.za) FIFA’s President Sepp Blatter has been transformed into a caricatured puppet, with SA Soccer Boss Danny Jordaan – peaking out from one of his pockets, as they both wax lyrical about the wonderful World Cup.
As advertising goes more viral we can expect more ambush marketing at the World Cup and other upcoming events like London’s 2012 Olympic Games. Global advertising campaigns, a 24/7 news cycle, interconnected sponsorship and social media platforms, mean that nothing is off limits and it’s open season for savvy marketers who can spot an opportunity. Fortunately the victims of ambush marketing aren't the consumers. We're the benefactors, because it's a lot more fun to watch than the regular stuff.