adidas womens jacket How ambush marketing ambushed sport
A Dutch brewery’s World Cup publicity stunt has led to arrests, threats of legal action and the loss of an ITV pundit’s job.
When 36 young women wearing orange mini dresses associated with the Dutch brewers Bavaria entered the stands at South Africa’s Soccer City Stadium for the Netherlands versus Denmark match, the cameras, predictably, turned towards them en masse, capturing shots that would grab the attention of picture editors worldwide.
All of the mini skirted ladies were ejected from the venue and two were arrested on charges of organising “unlawful commercial activities”. Meanwhile, a spokesman for the tournament’s governing body Fifa said it was looking into “all available legal remedies” against the brewery.
In a surreal twist, ex Jamaica and Wimbledon midfielder Robbie Earle was dropped as an ITV pundit and as an ambassador for England’s 2018 World Cup bid after claims that the orange crowd entered the stadium using tickets intended for his family and friends.
It may sound like a bafflingly trivial incident to get worked up about.
Sponsorship is big business, both for the brands splashing out and sporting governing bodies cashing in meaning that so called “ambush marketing” has itself become a huge growth industry.
And sport fans in the UK can expect to witness even tougher anti ambush measures as a result of strict legislation passed by Parliament ahead of the 2012 London Olympics.
“Events like the Olympics and the World Cup are hugely expensive to put on, so they need big money sponsors and this in turn means that the organisers must protect aggressively against ambush marketing,” says intellectual property barrister Phillip Johnson, a visiting senior fellow at Queen Mary, University of London.
“But this means there is potentially huge exposure for anyone who manages to outwit them.”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.
But prior to the stunt, the firm made sure they were instantly recognisable in the Netherlands by arranging to have one modelled by top ranking Dutch Wag Sylvie van der Vaart, the wife of Real Madrid’s Rafael van der Vaart.
Bavaria has form in the dark arts of ambush marketing. During the 2006 World Cup in Germany, dozens of Dutch men watched the Netherlands play in a Stuttgart stadium in their underwear after stewards ordered them to remove orange lederhosen bearing Bavaria’s name.
And this was only the latest in a long line of ploys executed by firms shut out of sponsorship arrangements.
One of the most notorious or audacious, depending on your viewpoint examples saw Nike buying up billboard space around venues in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, constructing Nike Village next door to the athletes’ village and distributing flags bearing the company logo swamping the visibility of Reebok, ostensibly the Games’ official sports footwear patron.
Indeed, according to Simon Chadwick, professor of sport business strategy and marketing at Coventry University Business School, Nike has made a conscious decision to eschew event sponsorship and cast itself as the plucky underdog in contrast with the likes of Adidas.
“What you’re now starting to see is all these consultancies emerging advising on how to pull off an ambush,” he says.
“There’s a mini industry on both sides, with official sponsors and governing bodies not wanting to take any chances.”
Indeed, the organisers of the 2012 Olympics have already taken the precaution of booking almost all the city’s billboard space during the games.
There are two lists of prohibited expressions, with marketers falling foul if they use any two words in list A, or any word in list A with one or more of the words in list B.
Companies deemed to have broken the rules could face fines of up to
“Those hoping to bask in London’s moment in the sun may be surprised at how restrictive the provisions of the Olympics Act are,” says David Thorp of the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM).
A CIM paper entitled The Event That Dare Not Speak Its Name warns that the legislation could be a potential “time bomb” for businesses, with an Ipsos MORI poll suggesting that 42% of practitioners in the industry expect to undertake “some Olympics related marketing activity”.
However, a spokesman for the London Organising Committee insisted that the Games could not go ahead without sponsorship and that it had a duty to protect those brands that were shelling out.
“We will take a firm but pragmatic approach to ambush marketing at Games time and deal with any issues on a case by case basis,” he added. “Any action will depend on the nature and intent of the ambush.”
Whatever happens, it appears inevitable that plenty of organisations will be setting out to identify their brand name with the event whether they play by the rules, or engage in rather less sporting behaviour.