Ambush (or guerilla) marketing occurs when one brand pays to become an official sponsor of an event (most often athletic) and another competing brand attempts to cleverly connect itself with the event, without paying the sponsorship fee and, more frustratingly, without breaking any laws.
Ambush marketing is as undeniably effective as it is damaging, attracting consumers at the expense of competitors, all the while undermining an event’s integrity and, most importantly, its ability to attract future sponsors.
An example is Nike that searched for creative ways to make a link to the World Cup vs. Adidas taht paid for sponsorship.
It is no surprise that ambush marketing techniques are at their utmost when the stakes are highest.
Stakes are never higher than at galactic sporting events such as the FIFA World Cup 2006.
As a result, ambush marketing has evolved into a combative art form.
The clash of free expression and commercial rights has become more critical as sports and business become increasingly intertwined, with total global spending on corporate sponsorships expected to reach $34 billion this year.
The official World Cup 2006 sponsors paid a whopping €30 million to €50 million, or $38 million to $63 million, for rights to associate with the games.
The rights the sponsors got are based on IP (Intellectual Property) principles.
To prevent ambush marketing, FIFA established a Rights Protection Programme (RPP) that involves a wide range of initiatives including a global trademark registration program, the worldwide appointment of legal experts, and collaboration with customs and police authorities in all key regions of the world.
So far, more than 1,200 cases in 65 countries have been pursued in connection with the 2006 FIFA World Cup™ and more than 850 have already been successfully closed.
Most of the cases were settled out of court with only 150 needing court litigation.
However, unlike piracy or counterfeiting, ambush marketing cases are rarely actionable, especially if the ambushers know what they are doing.
Marketers of unofficial World Cup goods are careful to avoid anything that would open themselves up to a FIFA legal challenge.
They simply include footballs, pitches, goalposts and football phrases -- all of it in the public domain and not subject to any trademark laws -- in the hope that the World Cup euphoria taking hold of Germany will make their products irresistible.
Take the German airline Lufthansa.
Its advertisements featured German and Brazilian soccer athletes, along with a seasonal soccer logo swoosh, LH2006, which just might lead people to suspect certain connections.
Lufthansa emphasized that they were not associating with the World Cup and that they took care not to use the trademark, FIFA World Cup 2006.
And if done cleverly, the alternative advertisements can have an even stronger impact than the officially sponsored publicity.
The Swiss Tourist Board, promoting the Alps, is a good example.
Since May, the Board televised advertisements in France, Germany and Italy.
They feature a cow-milking “Mr. Switzerland” and other handsome men trying to entice soccer widows to leave their sports-obsessed men behind.
“Dear girls, why not escape this summer's World Cup to a country where men spend less time on football, and more time on you?” the advertisement croons while showing images of a strapping farmhand, a sexy train conductor, a fit mountain climber, a dapper ferryman and a brawny lumberjack.
During the World Cup, Tom Houseman, head of legal affairs at FIFA Marketing and Television, was waging a war to prevent goodwill being eroded by trademark infringement, illegal tickets sales and ambush marketing, working across jurisdictions to police the infringements of FIFA’s IP –not an easy task.
To quote Adidas America spokesperson Travis Gonzolez:
“If everyone throws up their logos, it’s all-out war.”