Ambush Marketing around the World Cup

Well, it’s officially January 2018. Which means it’s officially a World Cup year.

So brace yourself for impact, for brands around the country are already constructing their patriotic rallying call for the Three Lions to finally put an end to what is now 52 years of hurt (*cries inside*) since England’s one and only World Cup win in 1966.

We’re a mere six months away from the 21st World Cup tournament, this time hosted by Russia, and for marketers, it couldn’t be better for UK audiences. Kick-off times are rather convenient for broadcasting this year, with the clear majority of fixtures taking place at either 1pm, 4pm or 7pm during the group stages. That’s music to sponsors’ ears – but it isn’t just the official FIFA partners that we can expect to take advantage.

They say not being an official sponsor for major sporting events brings out the best creative work from agencies, and ‘ambush marketing’ done right can be as effective, if not more so, than campaigns from the official rights holders.

Here we look at several examples of brands that have adopted a clever use of ambush marketing to gain a disproportionate share of major sporting tournaments, and look at the questions you should ask yourself before you start creating a campaign for that tournament you more than likely aren’t permitted to talk about…

Ambush Marketing is loosely split into three different categories:

  • Ambush by Association: when a brand associates itself with the event in the eye of the consumer by creatively misleading them to assume they are an official partner
  • Ambush by Intrusion: When a brand intrudes the event to gain prominent exposure, targeting either in-stadia audiences or viewers of broadcast media
  • Real-time Ambushing: Not necessarily ‘ambushing’, but taking advantage of the public interest in the event in order to become part of a relevant conversation

Ambush by Association:

Nike’s 2012 Olympic campaign, “Find Your Greatness”, is a brilliant example of hijacking Olympic equity in the mind of the consumer with an emotive film that subliminally weaves the essence of London throughout. But it’s not London, the host city, that would be breaking the rules and leaving Nike open to potential legal proceedings. Instead, it’s alternative London destinations from around the world that allows them to land the association.

Instead of associating themselves with the event itself, Tango went one further during Euro 96 and took official Sponsor Coca-Cola’s global positioning of ‘Eat Football, Sleep Football, Drink Coca-Cola’ to inspire their own tagline: ‘Eat Pies, Sleep A Lot, Drink Tango’, seen on OOH sites across the nation, proving you don’t need to spend millions on your own ambush campaign if another brand has already done the legwork for you.


Ambush by Intrusion:

Volvo took the idea of the ambush quite literally when they created their ‘Greatest Interception’ campaign for the 2015 Super Bowl.

Knowing they had no budget, and competitors would be spending millions of their ad dollars on airtime, they set about gamifying the ad break using competitor ads as the trigger for people to win a Volvo via the hashtag #VolvoContest.

The campaign was recognised at Cannes and helped Volvo drive a 70% uplift in sales the following month, proving ambush marketing done well can lead to compelling business results.

Bavaria Beer gained global notoriety during the 2010 World Cup for a brave in-stadium PR stunt that saw a group of 36 women dressed in matching orange dresses thrown out during a Holland v Denmark match. Two were even arrested on account of breaking FIFA advertising rules.

It transpired that the 36 women were actually provided the tickets by alcohol manufacturer Bavaria – whilst dressed head-to-toe in branded outfits as part of a promotional campaign from their native Netherlands. The women unsurprisingly caught the eye of the cameraman as they partied throughout the game, being beamed to billions of homes around the world live.

A nominal fine believed to be around £80,000 was issued, but the significant case coverage went some way to justify the expense and even inspired the following three TV campaigns they ran in future tournaments.

It was named 34th in an unofficial TV programme about the World Cup’s most shocking moments, as seen below.

Real-Time Ambushing:

There are many examples of real-time ambushing, and not just from sporting events. Who can forget Oreo’s excellent ‘You can still dunk in the dark’ tweet after the 2013 Super Bowl blackout?

One of the best examples of brands ambushing the World Cup occurred when Uruguayan striker Luis Suarez inexplicably bit into Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini’s shoulder in 2014, prompting hilarious responses from Snickers, Specsavers and Paddy Power to name a few.

But for brands to benefit from reactive ambushing, they must be part of the conversations that are relevant to their brand specifically – anything shoehorned feels forced and can have a detrimental effect. The brands above worked either because it fits with their product offering or their brand persona. So think twice before you launch into creating content around every potential talking point.

Paddy Power was also the orchestrators of one of the greatest ambush campaigns ahead of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, seeding an image supposedly supporting England’s pursuit of the trophy with a controversial message emblazoned across the Amazon.

The stunt had activists up in arms at the apparent deforestation of the jungle, but of course, it was all an elaborate prank which PP then used as a platform to raise awareness of the various issues the Amazon faces – as well as gaining significant press coverage in the build-up to the tournament.

Great, what next?

If you’re thinking about creating a campaign ahead of the World Cup – here are a few questions to ask yourself before you take the plunge.

Do you have the funds to cut-through during the World Cup?

  • Even though you might not be paying official partner fees, remember there will still be a LOT of brands active

Does your brand have a distinctive voice/personality?

  • If you have the budget but not the voice, you still might struggle to resonate with consumers if they don’t know what you stand for

Is your target audience actually interested in the World Cup?

  • The World Cup may seem like an unmissable event, but is it crucial for you to hit them at this time?

How much of an appetite for bravery do you have?

  • Not having official rights will require an element of risk to truly stand-out – be realistic if this is right for your brand



About Author

Kieran Smith

Kieran is a Creative Strategist sitting in the OMD Create team, with a passion for ideas and how brands can use them to inspire audiences. He joined last week from Starcom where he spent the last 5 years.

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