Featured, Opinion

Dealing with the menace of ambush marketing

By Ojelabi ol’Victor

Whenever major events are about to be held, the recurring headaches for sponsors, agencies and organisers is fighting ambush marketers which has been left to grow like a tumor in the house of marketing.

A full understanding of what ambush marketing means will help a discerning mind to decide if ambush marketing is a menace or marketing stunt. And this simply means a marketing strategy where advertisers associate themselves with and leverage a particular event without paying any fee or charge.

It takes a huge chunk of money out of a company’s annual budget to become an official or major sponsor of an event, while others look for a creative, but unauthorized ways to, directly or indirectly, associate their trademarks, trade dress and distinctive signs to the competition, so as to obtain undue advantages or fake a connection to the event without paying the appropriate fees.

This practice is more common than we may know and past occurrences are testifiers to this, which may be due to either the unacceptable fees paid to sponsor an event or inability of the company to meet deadline when option to participate was opened.

There are many notable instances of ambush marketing either in this country or other countries of the world. FIFA and Baveria beer have long been at odds with each other about the latter’s attempt to sneak into the World Cup limelight. The cheekiness of the Dutch brewers repeatedly annoys football’s top brass, and has caused a group of promo girls to be arrested in South Africa, and 1000 fans to have their pants confiscated.

In 2006, a major German airline painted a soccer ball on the nose of its planes, during the FIFA World Cup, as an attempt to become associated with the event, despite the fact that official sponsor in that category was another airline, from the United Arab Emirates, which had paid the promoting entity a substantial amount to link its trademark and name with exclusivity to that sports competition.

In Brazil, in preparation for the 2014 World Cup, following the example of Portugal, South Africa, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, where laws and regulations were created to protect the commercial interests of event promoters and sponsors, the “General Law of the Cup” (Law No. 12,663/2012) was enacted. In an innovating manner, it bears a chapter clarifying the limits for how the Official FIFA Symbols can be used and establishing fines for violation or undue association through ambush marketing by association or intrusion.

Before the start of the 2014 World Cup, a case that became famous in advertising circles involved a well-known Brazilian airline which, although not the official carrier of the Brazilian team sponsored a few soccer players, and created and published a commercial saying that it would bring “our stars to play at home”.

With over 2 million views only in the airline’s page of YouTube, the commercial showed three Brazilian soccer players in a sequence of troubles on the way to the airport. At the end, the commercial would say “The competitors will hate to admit it, but [the airline] will bring our stars to play at home”. The airline’s marketing strategy was to find a way to transport the Brazilian athletes playing in European cities where it has direct flights back home to Brazil, such as Paris, London and Madrid.

For advertising professionals, that commercial was the worst strike an airline could have imposed on the Brazilian team’s official carrier, which had acquired the rights to sponsor the event. For that reason, the official carrier filed a complaint with the CONAR- National Council for Advertising Self-Regulation, requesting that the advertising film be either changed or withdrawn. At a meeting held on May 8, 2014, CONAR decided that the commercial titled “Catimba” (a word that means both smartness and unfair play) should be modified, since it transmitted the false idea that the advertiser was transporting all players of the Brazilian team, although the official carrier was another airline. The advertising airline accepted the Council’s decision and changed the script of its commercial.

In Nigeria, the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) wielded the big stick on brewery giant, Nigerian Breweries for intentionally infringing on NFF’s rights and that of its official sponsors Guinness Nigeria Plc during the 2014 World Cup held in Brazil.

According to a press release signed by Ademola Olajire, Assistant Director (Communications), the Nigeria Football Federation, decried the fact that Nigeria Breweries had launched communication materials across Nigeria featuring ex-players of Super Eagles, giving the impression that it (Nigerian Breweries Plc) was an Official Sponsor of the team.

Transformation Agenda of Nigeria (TAN) branded t-shirts worn by Nigerian Supporters’ Club at the recent AFCON match between Super Eagles of Nigeria and Congolese national team could also be ambush marketing. While Globacom, a telecommunication company, is the official sponsor of club, the national supporters’ club were seen urging the Super Eagles on wearing TAN t-shirt. Could it be that Globacom has subscribed to TAN, which is widely believed to be a machinery working for the second term bid of the incumbent president of Nigeria?

A strategy, which could only be seen as opportunistic, where companies launch variety of marketing communications activities during major events, so that consumers will mistakenly think that they are actual sponsors of the events, is not seen by everybody as a bad thing. But it is important that corporate organisations consider all marketing and legal implications of their actions to avoid embarrassing situations.

To prevent ambush marketing before, during and after an event, the entity with the right needs to ensure that budget allocation for leveraging on its sponsorship of an event should be more than the what is actually paid as sponsorship fee. It is not enough for the sponsor to go to sleep after getting the right; heavy and strategic campaign is needed to reinforce the brand position. Vigilance should also be a watchword for volunteers, monitors, governmental agents and the brand’s own employees to inspect and stop any undue use of the official symbols, while sensitization of law enforcement agents should not be left out of the cycle. Another way of putting a plug to this act is if the courts could be live to its duties and speedily dispense issues bothering ambushing marketing.

Above all, advertising personnel should learn to respect the boundaries of rights held by sponsors of individual athletes or teams and by the entire event in order to reduce the number of cases of ambushing marketing, while making professionalism and originality a badge.

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