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a marketing strategy in which a competing brand connects itself with a major sporting event without paying sponsorship fees
'It wasn't immediately obvious that the 36 women wearing bright orange mini-dresses at Monday's World Cup game between Denmark and Holland were advertising a brewery, though the worldwide publicity the company gained when every one of them was ejected by stewards has ensured that a huge audience has become aware of the brand. "What seems to have happened is that there was a clear ambush marketing activity by a Dutch brewery company," said FIFA spokesman Nicolas Maingot.'The Guardian 17th June 2010
'Bavaria flew ambush marketers to SA … Dutch brewery Bavaria flew in two coordinators from The Netherlands to organise the "orange dress" ambush marketing campaign, world football body Fifa said on Thursday.'Mail and Guardian, Johannesburg 17th June 2010
Imagine throwing a party where you've invited lots of interesting people and made a huge effort to provide lovely food and drinks. Imagine your partner had absolutely no involvement in planning or funding the party, but then waltzes in at the last minute and claims all the credit for your expense and effort …
it's no surprise that ambush marketing techniques are most rife when the stakes are highest, and they're no higher than at world-scale sporting events such as the World Cup and the Olympic Games
This hypothetical scenario is an analogy of the concept of ambush marketing, though with ambush marketing, considerably more money is involved, typically millions of dollars! Ambush marketing occurs when one product brand pays to become the official sponsor of a large-scale sporting event. Competing brands then attempt to find ways to connect themselves with the same event, thus violating the exclusivity of the official sponsor and cleverly avoiding the massive sponsorship fee.
It's no surprise that ambush marketing techniques are most rife when the stakes are highest, and they're no higher than at world-scale sporting events such as the World Cup and the Olympic Games. One of the most notable examples of ambush marketing occurred at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, when the sportswear company Nike avoided paying the $50 million dollar sponsorship fee, successfully mounting a marketing campaign by plastering the city in billboards, handing out free banners to spectators and erecting an enormous Nike centre overlooking the stadium. This prompted large sporting organizations such as FIFA and the International Olympic Committee to formulate what are now known as anti-ambushing or anti-ambush strategies, and ahead of the London Olympics in 2012, the UK parliament has passed strict legislation in an attempt to enforce even tougher anti-ambush measures at the Games.
In the meantime however there seems to be no effective deterrent to attempts at ambush marketing, which recently hit the spotlight again at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, this time in the form of skimpy orange mini-dresses! A group of female Holland fans attending Holland's opening match against Denmark were told to leave at half time after FIFA accused them of ambush marketing because their dresses 'just happened' to be designed by the Dutch beer company Bavaria in their brand colours. Budweiser are the official sponsor at the event and therefore the only beer brand to be allowed to advertise inside the stadium. Two of the women were later arrested after it emerged that the beer company had in fact paid their expenses in exchange for their involvement in coordinating the marketing stunt. Though FIFA officials were quick to enforce anti-ambushing policy, the ensuing media frenzy has guaranteed a publicity coup for Bavaria.
The expression ambush marketing was coined in the early nineties by marketing guru Jerry Welsh while working for the company American Express. Welsh's original perception of ambush marketing was the idea of healthy competition in a climate of expensive and often ill-conceived sponsorships. Over time however the expression has taken on much more negative overtones, now thought of as something like commercial theft. The expressions parasitic marketing and guerrilla marketing are often used as alternative terms for the same concept.
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This article was first published on 20th June 2010.