Ambush or Anguish ?

Imagine you put in a lot of effort and mighty amount of time to write an article! And imagine how it would feel, if someone plagiarizes or claims credit for the same? The same situation, when happens in business, in terms of marketing, involving plenty of money is called ambush marketing. In other words, Ambush marketing is a form of marketing in which a group takes advantage of an event that is usually highly publicized, but with no affiliation with the event and no fee paid. Ambush marketing occurs when a company signs on to sponsor an event as official sponsor, and a rival hijacks the mind space through backdoor means. This leads to many questions. Is ambush marketing ethical? Is it legal? Is it a healthy marketing practice?
Ambush marketing or parasitic marketing is not something new found. It has been practiced by many leading companies of the world for a long time now. In 1984 Olympics, Fujifilm was the official sponsor and in spite of that, Kodak sponsored the TV broadcast of games as well as the US track teams and hogged the limelight. More recent, is the case of two beer companies Budweiser and Bavaria fighting it out in FIFA’10. While Budweiser was the official beer of the event, 36 women wearing short orange dresses made by Bavaria were indirectly marketing for Bavaria in the stadium. Later, these 36 women were ejected from the stadium. These are the classical cases of ambush marketing. Ambush marketing is practiced by big companies like Nike, Reebok, Adidas, Pepsi, Coke etc. Even FMCG companies resort to ambush marketing as means to tackle cut throat competition. 

In majority of ambush marketing cases, one brand pays a hefty sum to become an exclusive sponsor of an event. This exclusivity creates problems to the other similar brands, which also want to market themselves in such events. Therefore, the brands that are not sponsoring the event adopt ambush marketing techniques.

Almost 24,000 cans of Pringles were distributed to spectators outside the Wimbledon All England Club during a grand slam.
The different techniques of ambush marketing can range from buying the bill board space around the event, assuring that people who attend the event see the billboards. Or it can be subtle, like giving free T shirts, hats and other promotional products to the spectators, so that their brand can be seen. “These are not tennis balls” campaign by Pringles allowed it to make a tolerable and noticeable presence at the Wimbledon club. All these are within the legal limits, and yet are beneficial to the company that instigates such marketing techniques. Ambush marketing can also be differentiated based on whether it is direct or indirect ambushing. Copyright infringements, logo stealing come under direct ambushing, while, sponsoring sub categories of the event, sponsoring broadcast of the event come under indirect ambushing. While direct ambushing can be prevented and acted against using law, indirect marketing is perfectly legal and is very difficult to counter against.

Ambush marketing has varied consequences. Firstly, the commercial value of the event may reduce since the actual sponsors might get apprehensive about spending so much on the event, when their rivals are reaping benefits even without spending a penny. Secondly, some people, especially the organizers of the event feel that it creates a very unhealthy competitive environment. Finally, from the point of view of the company, every company would want to be an ambusher instead of paying a huge amount for sponsoring.

We hear hue and cry everywhere on the ethicality and legality of ambush marketing and we get different perspectives from different persons involved. While FIFA manager says that such tactics “lack decency and creativity”, Nike’s brand manager says “Nike likes to come at things from a different angle”. In my opinion, such tactics need much more creativity than even a normal marketing strategy would require. In this regard, it is interesting to note the recent ambushing between HUL and P&G. On 23rd July ’10, Mumbai woke up to huge hoardings that said “A Mystery Shampoo!! 80% women say is better than anything else”, which was a teaser from P&G’s stable. P&G’s intention was to unveil its new shampoo on 1st of August’10. HUL took this as an opportunity to ambush P&G and were very quick to come up with a counter strike. On July 28th, even as the hoardings of P&G stood tall, Mumbai woke up to another hoarding that read “There is no mystery. Dove is the No.1 shampoo”. Thus, P&G lost out on the advertisement costs and efforts and HUL came out victoriously. According to me, official sponsors do have an easier way to advertise themselves. However, there should not be any issues in another player getting into the game and that too in an extremely cost effective manner. Ambush marketing is a result of healthy competition and as long as the non-sponsors do nothing to claim that they are indeed the sponsors, they are free to pursue other event related activities to get into the mind sets of the consumers. It is a very effective practice for smaller companies, which cannot afford the huge sponsorship fees. In fact, even the sponsors have understood the relevance of ambush marketing and are buying all the advertising space within a 10 to 15 mile radius and are going all out to plug in all the loop holes, which can potentially lead to them being ambushed. In this kind of a market situation, in the long run, the obvious losers will be the events themselves.
To conclude, marketing is nothing but “war minus shooting” and ambush marketing is “war with special weapons”. As long as the weapons are legal, the marketing war can and will continue.

[The article has been contributed by Deepika Raghavan. She is an MBA in Marketing at FORE School of Management,New Delhi.  We wish her the very best for her future. ]

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