Some of the best sports ambush marketing campaigns of all time
Ambush marketing is when a brand tries to ride on the coat-tails of big event, usually sports related, without incurring the huge costs of being an official sponsor. Activity of this kind certainly appears maverick and you could be forgiven for thinking it is outlawed, but many companies, often major ones, have utilised this tactic effectively and just the right side of the law.
The worldwide appeal generated by high-profile sporting events can prove irresistible for many brands. As most of 2020’s tournaments were cancelled or postponed to 2021, brands can still take advantage of much loved sporting contests without risking the fees. Whilst event organisers have become stricter about protecting their events from rogue advertisers, some clever campaigns do slip through – and here are some favourites.
London 2012 – Paddy Power
The 2012 Olympics and Paralympics were widely heralded as a great success around the world for the sporting prowess on display, while sponsors also generally came away pleased with the protection they had received from the organisers.
Nevertheless, Paddy Power managed to provide an exception to this. They created and sponsored an athletics event in London on 1 August 2012. However, this London was actually a town in Central France, but they advertised their sponsorship in London, England, much to the annoyance of LOCOG, which was unable to do anything about it, losing the legal battle.
2012 London Olympics; Nike
Adopting a similar approach to Paddy Power (and at the same event), Nike looked to circumvent the restrictions by using the name of the capital in its ‘Find Your Greatness’ campaign featuring athletic ‘Londoners’ performing in alternative Londons (London in Ohio, East London in South Africa, Little London in Jamaica, etc). The campaign ran in 25 countries and the showcase coincided with the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympics – where Adidas was the official sponsor.
1996 Atlanta Olympics; Nike
Although Reebok were the Games’ official sponsor, Nike waged a concerted ambush marketing campaign – littering the streets of the Georgian capital with Olympic-related advertising without stepping into Reebok’s jurisdiction. The most famous example came from Michael Johnson’s golden winning shoes, created by Nike, which grabbed the headlines along with his gold medals.
2014 Brazil World Cup
Brands were also quick to act during the Brazil tournament when Luis Suarez bit an Italian player and used his foul play to their advantage.
2018 World Cup; Autotrader
And here’s one our team worked on – Autotrader gave away a brand new car, with PromoVeritas selecting the winner, every time England scored a goal during the 2018 World Cup tournament – all without mentioning the tournament itself – with a campaign that received thousands of entries and millions of views across social media.
2020 Euros; Pringles
Pringoooals is a football themed on-pack promotion that we helped Pringles to run in over 40 countries across Europe to coincide with the 2020 Euros. Despite the tournament being cancelled the promotion offered fans thousands of consolation prizes including footballs and Adidas merchandise to keep ‘the beautiful game’ going during lockdown.
The Rules – don’t ignore them
All sporting events will have official legislation in place to protect their Intellectual Property from being infringed on by unofficial sponsors. With pressure on the organisers to provide value to official sponsors during these challenging times they will be even stricter about preventing unauthorised advertising. Unapproved use of any of the assets – not always just the logo or the event name – can result in legal action.
If you are not an official sponsor, be very careful about creating any direct link with the event and remember that creativity must always be linked to legality. But you can create memorable moments and sales-generating campaigns through clever ideas and a good understanding of the rules.