Sneaking in

Ambush marketing achieved notoriety during the recent Cricket World Cup in South Africa. There are moves to suppress this type of activity, but aren’t such tactics just part and parcel of the free market? By Gemma Charles

Ambush marketing, being a sneaky way to promote brands, does not often make the headlines. But it was thrust into the spotlight in February this year at the Cricket World Cup in South Africa.

In the minds of many observers, the competition’s organisers went too far to protect official sponsor Pepsi by throwing out a supporter whose “crime” was to quench his thirst with a can of Coca-Cola. Things got worse and the supporter, a South African businessman, accused the organisers of assault. Pepsi moved to distance itself from the incident, but the damage in terms of PR was already done.

It’s fairly safe to say that one man drinking Coke hardly constitutes hard-core ambush marketing, but the large amounts sponsors pay rights-holders means that the threat of a genuine ambush has to be taken seriously. One organisation doing just this is FIFA, the world’s governing body for football responsible for the FIFA World Cup.

Regula Bleuler is the marketing communications manager of FIFA Marketing, the body’s commercial arm. For last year’s competition her organisation brought in £300m worth of sponsorship from 15 companies, and for Bleuler their importance cannot be underestimated.

She says: “An event like the FIFA World Cup could never be staged in the same dimensions without the official partners. Without their support the success of the event would not be possible.” To protect these rights, says Bleuler, the first action to take is trademark registration.

Her organisation has also established a worldwide rights protection programme. This involves initiatives such as a global trademark registration programme and the appointment of legal experts. The internet, which offers marketers the chance to place timely sporting images on websites, and in doing so ambush by stealth, is also closely monitored.

“If another company just wants to profit without contributing anything to the event or the game of football as a whole, the FIFA World Cup marketing programme, the event and the co-operation in partnership are totally undermined,” she says.

European Sponsorship Consultants Association chairman Nigel Currie takes a more cynical view: “What irritates rights-holders is that companies like Nike are spending a fortune, but not with them.” He says the sporting landscape has changed dramatically in a way that has allowed the growth of planned and “accidental” ambush marketing.

“Perhaps the biggest change has been the explosion of different opportunities,” Currie says. “Fifteen to 20 years ago, you had perimeter boards and an event sponsor. We now have individual team sponsors, shirt sponsors, signs on the pitch and sponsorship for everything imaginable. It’s gone through the roof.”

Broadcast sponsorship can also muddy the waters. Early deals when the packages were first allowed led to an ambush of sorts. This has been addressed and now event sponsors are not only offered first refusal, but in some cases, such as ITV’s broadcast sponsorship of the Rugby World Cup later this year, stations guarantee that rivals to the event sponsors will not be considered for advertising, even if the official sponsors turned down the opportunity.

But all the planning in the world cannot prevent non-sponsors from sometimes getting the upper hand. Performance Research, a sponsorship evaluation company, found that following Euro 2000, many fans struggled to identify any of the tournament sponsors and were confused by the advertising campaign by non-sponsors such as Nike and Carling. These echo an NOP survey for Marketing Week on the 1998 FIFA World Cup, which found that out of 1,000 adults, only half were able to name at least one sponsor and two-thirds of the public wrongly attributed official status to brands.

Ambush, what ambush?

Mark Knight, the international project manager of Performance Research says: “The most important thing for any official sponsor to keep in mind is that the average fan does not understand the differences between a title sponsor, associate sponsor or ambush marketer – nor do they care.”

Nevertheless, top sporting events rake in the cash from sponsorship. One company that has decided officialdom is the route is Mastercard, which last month became the biggest sponsor of football events in the world. The company will sponsor five global properties, including the the 2004 UEFA European Football Championship in Portugal and the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany. Arjen Kruger the chief marketing officer for Europe says going down the official route is what suits the brand.

The Mastercards of the world could be helped immeasurably if countries were to follow the South African government’s approach to ambush marketing. After pressure from the organisers of the Cricket World Cup, the government introduced legislation banning ambush marketing before and during the tournament.

Nick Johnson, a partner at law firm Osborne Clarke, thinks this is a step too far. He says that “cheeky” marketing ideas such as indirect references to events, handing out flags to spectators and calling the brand the unofficial product of the event would be outlawed. “The use of criminal sanctions for what is in reality a matter of commercial competition is quite simply not appropriate. There is nothing inherently dishonest about wanting to build a campaign for your brand around a sporting event,” he says.

But until other countries adopt these laws, the battle between official sponsors and ambushers can be won by the most creative and imaginative marketers.

Hollis Sponsorship Awards 2003

For the second time in its history, the Hollis Sponsorship of the Year Trophy has been awarded to a first-time sponsor: Imperial Leather for its sponsorship of the 2002 Manchester Commonwealth Games. Imperial Leather was also winner of the First Time Sponsorship and Brand categories. The brand was deemed to have worked every opportunity, achieving excellent stand-out in a notoriously difficult market.

The objectives were to increase brand awareness, build key brand attributes of fun, enjoyment and modernity and to test sponsorship as a mass communication tool. Sponsorship became the heart of the marketing campaign and was exploited well beyond the event itself. Awareness of Imperial Leather as a sponsor of the games was 33 per cent nationally and 48 per cent in Manchester – 59 per cent higher than the next-best sponsor.

Despite recent economic uncertainty, the Hollis Sponsorship Awards attracted more entries than ever before, demonstrating the resilience of the sponsorship sector and how important the awards have become as a showcase of the industry’s achievements. Nominations range from the top-billing football sponsorships to a sampling exercise on a beach in Dorset. The Hollis Sponsorship Awards judges were looking for evidence of the ‘big idea’, for innovation, for appropriateness and synergy, for creative and maximised exploitation and proof on paper that the campaign had met its business objectives.

Arts Sponsorship – supported by Arts & Business

Winner: The Unilever Series – entered by Sponsorship Consulting

Nominated: Invest & Inspire, sponsored by Barclays

Scots in Film, sponsored by Lloyds TSB Scotland – entered by Elaine Howie Public Relations

City of London Sinfonia, sponsored by Marsh & McLennan Companies

Charity & Community Sponsorship – supported by the Institute of Fundraising

Winner: Race for Life, sponsored by Tesco

Nominated: Childline, sponsored by BT – entered by Sinclair Mason

Inner City Cricket Initiative, sponsored by Channel 4 – entered by Activate UK

Manchester 2002 Commonwealth Games, sponsored by the Guardian Media Group – entered by Karen Earl Sponsorship

Education Sponsorship

Winner: Tag rugby in Leicestershire, sponsored by Alliance & Leicester – entered by Carat Sport

Highly Commended: Think Energy, sponsored by British Gas – entered by British Gas/Educational Communications

Nominated: City of London Sinfonia, sponsored by Marsh & McLennan Companies

npower Lions’ Den, sponsored by npower

Media Sponsorship – sponsored by Aura Sports

Winner: Home & Away, sponsored by Bodyform – entered by Carat Sponsorship/Carat

Nominated: Britain’s Strongest Man 2002, sponsored by CitroëVans – entered by SBI

Big Brother 3, sponsored by O2 – entered by Drum PHD

A Taste of Spain microsite, sponsored by San Miguel – entered by Guardian Unlimited

Sports Sponsorship – sponsored by Icon Display and supported by the Institute of Sports Sponsorship

Winner: English cricket, sponsored by The Times – entered by Carat Sport/Carat Sponsorship

Nominated: Barclaycard Premiership – entered by Arena International

Flora London Marathon – entered by LGM Consulting

Football Programme, sponsored by Nationwide Building Society

Corporate Sponsorship

Winner: Manchester 2002 Commonwealth Games, sponsored by the Guardian Media Group – entered by Karen Earl Sponsorship

Nominated: Invest & Inspire, sponsored by Barclays

UBS Sailing Sponsorship Portfolio, sponsored by UBS – entered by Hill & Knowlton

The Unilever Series – entered by Sponsorship Consulting

Brand Sponsorship – sponsored by Clintons Solicitors

Winner: Manchester 2002 Commonwealth Games, sponsored by Imperial Leather – entered by BDH/TBWA

Nominated: Home & Away, sponsored by Bodyform – entered by Carat Sponsorship/Carat

Britain’s Strongest Man 2002, sponsored by CitroëVans – entered by SBI

Football Programme, sponsored by the Nationwide Building Society

First Time Sponsor

Winner: Manchester 2002 Commonwealth Games, sponsored by Imperial Leather – entered by BDH/TBWA

Nominated: Butlins Christmas Grottos – entered by Redmandarin

Blind Date, sponsored by Müller Dairy (UK)

British Independent Film Awards, sponsored by Park Caledonia – entered by Maverick UK

Sponsorship Continuity

Winner: T in the Park, sponsored by Tennent’s Lager – entered by KLP Euro RSCG Entertainment

Nominated: UEFA Champions League, sponsored by Ford – entered by BroadMind

ITV Drama Premieres, sponsored by HSBC – entered by Drum PHD

The Football Association – England Team, sponsored by Nationwide Building Society

International Sponsorship – supported by the European Sponsorship Consultants Association

Winner: Heineken Cup, sponsored by Heineken International – entered by Lighthouse Communications

Nominated: European Sponsorship of Formula One, sponsored by Canon – entered by The Works London

Energizer Athletics Sponsorship Programme, sponsored by Energizer Holdings – entered by Octagon Marketing

UBS Sailing Sponsorship Portfolio – entered by Hill & Knowlton

Best Use of Research – sponsored by Ipsos, Marketlink Research and Sports Marketing Surveys

Winner: The Unilever Series – entered by Sponsorship Consulting

Nominated: Butlins Christmas Grottos – entered by Redmandarin

Flora London Marathon – entered by LGM Consulting

Best Use of Public Relations – sponsored by Durrants and supported by the Public Relations Consultants Association

Winner: Tate Online, sponsored by BT – entered by Sinclair Mason

Nominated: 2002 FIFA World Cup, sponsored by Adidas – entered by Hill & Knowlton

Childline sponsored by BT – entered by Sinclair Mason

Blue ‘One Love’ Tour, sponsored by Johnson & Johnson, Vision Care, Acuvue 2 Colours – entered by Edelman

Best Low-Budget Sponsorship

Winner: British Independent Film Awards, sponsored by Park Caledonia – entered by Maverick UK

Nominated: Shaw Trust ‘Spare the Water’ Chelsea Flower Show, sponsored by Barclays

Legendairy Sponsorships, sponsored by Ben & Jerry’s – entered by Revolver Communications

Beach Sports Programme, sponsored by Two Oceans – entered by Westbury Communications

Hollis Sponsorship Personality of the Year, sponsored by Sutton Gibbs Recruitment

Winner: Colin Tweedy, chief executive of Arts & Business

For further information please contact Rosemary Sarginson at Hollis. Tel: 020 8977 7711 or visit

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