Ambush marketing peaks during World Cup

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Thursday 03 July 2014

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Coventry University experts warn of danger for sponsors of football’s biggest tournament

Official sponsors of this year’s FIFA World Cup should expect more intense incidents of ambush marketing during the competition, according to experts from the Centre for the International Business of Sport (CIBS) based at Coventry University’s Business School.

A number of companies, such as Nike and Pepsi, have already launched their own marketing campaigns to coincide with the competition - despite not being official sponsors. Others, including the Mars brand Snickers and opticians Specsavers, have capitalised on the ‘bite’ by Uruguayan star Luis Suarez to bring attention to their own brands.

Professor Simon Chadwick, chair in Sport Business Strategy and Marketing at Coventry University’s Business School, believes there is more to come during the remainder of the competition. He said:

Just as sponsorship has become big business, so too has ambushing. Corporations that have missed out on the big sponsorships are going to great lengths to undermine their rivals’ sponsorship of sporting mega events.

The London 2012 Olympic Games demonstrated the power of ambush marketing to a global audience, with Beats Electronics, Paddy Power and Nike all implying association with the Games without paying any sponsorship fees.

The World Cup is also one of the most valuable corporate sponsorship opportunities globally and in addition to the activity we have seen so far, we should expect more ambush marketing over the next couple of weeks.

Ambushing involves the rivals of event partners, or official sponsors, trying to pass themselves off as official event sponsors or deflecting people’s attention from the official sponsors. Ambushers historically have engaged in activities such as the execution of stunts, smuggling products into event venues, and using star performers who are not signed to endorse products for event partners.

One high-profile example at the 2010 World Cup was Dutch beer giants Bavaria, who dressed 36 women in short orange dresses during a group game between Holland and Denmark, much to the alarm of official beer supplier Budweiser. The women were removed from the stadium, while Bavaria was threatened with criminal action. 

Over the last six years, the CIBS research team has gathered and analysed evidence from nearly 1,000 cases of ambushing at sporting events in countries such as Great Britain, the United States, Germany, Brazil, Poland and China. The research indicates how widespread and increasingly prevalent ambushing has become over the last three decades.

The research also shows that there are various different forms of ambushing, including predatory ambushing, parallel property ambushing, and coat-tail ambushing (for a more detailed description of these types, please see the notes to editors).

For sporting events, although legislation is sometimes in place to protect against ambushing, significant extra costs are often incurred, for instance in protecting against and policing it. For official sponsors, ambushing potentially undermines the return on their investment in event sponsorship deals.

For consumers, ambushing can create a great deal of confusion and cause them to be misled. Consumers may also be affected by the policing of ambushers and the protection of official sponsors, potentially raising questions about people’s rights when entering venues or exclusion zones.

Professor Chadwick continued:

Recent research demonstrates that as many as 50% of consumers may be led to believe that ambushers are official sponsors. In such cases they are more likely to recognise and recall ambusher brands. One case of this is Carlsberg, who were voted as the most memorable marketing campaign of the 2010 World Cup, despite not having any official link with the competition. Official sponsors will be susceptible to almost half of the benefits they expected from their deals being appropriated by other companies.

Countries staging major sporting events must take ambush marketing seriously, using legislation where necessary. Failure to do this will seriously affect their chances of hosting similar events in the future because of their inability to attract sponsors, who will question whether event sponsorship is the most beneficial way of spending their marketing budgets. Without this considerable investment organisers will not be able to cover the cost of staging major sporting events.

Ambush Tactic Classification
Beats by Dr Dre Promotional campaign featuring national team players and football imagery Incursive ambushing
 VW Sustained multi-level digital campaign that uses World cup imagery, football theme, national team colours Incursive ambushing
 Go Pro Advertising that uses football games and Brazilian imagery Associative ambushing
 Nike ‘Risk Everything’ campaign involving television advertising campaign, and animated cartoon Incursive ambushing
 Havaianas Production and sale of Brazil-themed flip-flop shoes Obtrusive ambushing
 Blue Man Underpants worn and revealed in the player’s tunnel by Neymar during game against Cameroon Incursive ambushing
 Activia Social media video employing Shakira, singing a new song ‘La, La, La’ Obtrusive ambushing
 Heineken Created a football stadium out of beer crates in a Dutch Supermarket Obtrusive ambushing
 Adidas Burning of France’s 2010 World Cup coach in which players argued Obtrusive ambushing
All things Suarez-related including Snickers, Listerine, Pizza Express, Barilla and more Range of different brands capitalising on biting incident by incorporating relevant ‘themed’ communication and promotions and adverts Obtrusive ambushing & associative ambushing