Ambush Marketers Win Big During FIFA World Cup

Successful marketing and advertising is, among other things, driven by creativity.  The general public has become more aware and savvy of marketing strategies than they were in the early days of mass media advertisements.  This new public awareness has caused companies to adapt and innovate.  For the 2014 FIFA World Cup, some companies such as Adidas, Sony, and Budweiser have taken a direct approach in advertising.  These three corporations (along with five others) have become FIFA’s official partners, paying close to $100 million to be an exclusive sponsor.  Official sponsors are legally allowed to use trademarked aspects of the FIFA World Cup on their products, such as the Official Emblem, the FIFA World Cup Trophy, and/or the Official Mascot.

Companies such as Nike and Apple (the producer of the popular Dre Beats headphones) are not official sponsors of the 2014 FIFA World Cup but still are looking to capitalize on this world-wide event.  To that end, Nike and Apple have produced commercials starring World Cup players and soccer-related imagery.  This “ambush marketing” aims at finding creative ways to focus advertising around the World Cup without having to pay a large price to become an official sponsor, while also navigating the legal channels so as to not violate the territory of official World Cup Sponsors.  While the public is far more sophisticated today, they may not readily recognize which company is the “Official Sponsor” and which is merely advertising its product through the normal channels.  Thus, Nike and Apple derive the benefits of the World Cup mania without paying huge sponsorship fees for the right to be named “exclusive” or “official” sponsors on top of advertising costs, as their competitors who are FIFA sponsors do.

According to international law firm Lewis-Silkin, there are three types of ambush marketing.  The first is ambush by association in which a company leads the public to believe they are an official sponsor through their association with an event.  The second is ambush by intrusion where companies look to advertise at an event (e.g. stadiums) where official sponsors have exclusive rights.  The rarest type is opportunistic ambush marketing, where non-sponsors take advantage of a widely recognizable occurrence within the event to advertise a product.  For example, if a food company alluded to Luis Suarez’s infamous bite of Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini to sell their food product, they would be considered an ambush advertiser.

Ambush marketing becomes quite problematic for FIFA and their official World Cup sponsors.  If corporations pay top dollar to be endorsed by the organization that runs the tournament, they hope to see the rewards of the investment in the form of increased exposure, sales, etc.  If FIFA’s sponsors do not get the return on their investment needed to offset their costs, they will not willingly pay to become an official sponsor in the future.  FIFA would lose a large portion of revenue and all corporations would simply turn to  ambush marketing.

FIFA has attempted to protect their official sponsors by passing laws that put limitations on how non-sponsors can advertise during the World Cup.  The Brazil World Cup General Law was passed leading up to the Confederations Cup held in 2013 in Brazil.  This law, among others, states that all trademarks, images, and broadcasting rights are held by FIFA and the Federal Government will collaborate with FIFA to protect commercial activities and promotions in stadiums.  This means that companies cannot sell goods that imply any connection to the World Cup.  FIFA even goes further, releasing a formal document outlining their rights to sell tickets and promote the World Cup.  FIFA states,

If a campaign is orchestrated in such a way (through use of other imagery and/or textual references) that the consumer’s attention or subconscious consideration is drawn to the company’s brand and the Tournaments at the same time, allowing for intangible brand value transfer to take place, then the marketing activity has succeeded in a valuable exercise of brand promotion and enhancement. This is unfair and is damaging to the Tournaments and its organizer.

It is possible then that Dre Beats “The game before the game” commercial violates laws to prevent ambush marketing.  While Apple does not ever use official World Cup logos or trademarks in the commercial, Dre Beats draws attention away from 2014 World Cup sponsor Sony.  FIFA has attempted to protect Sony by banning Dre Beats in all World Cup stadiums.

FIFA maintains that, “FIFA is entitled to obtain an injunction from the court preventing any violation of its rights together with compensation for its legal costs and an award of damages.”  It has done so in past World Cups.  In 2010 Bavarian Brewery of Netherlands hired thirty-six women to attend a 2010 World Cup match wearing advertising which endorsed Bavarian Brewery.  The women were ejected from the stadium since Budweiser was an official sponsor of the FIFA World Cup.  FIFA pressed charges before settling out of court.  While this is an obvious intrusion method of ambush marketing and an easy case to prosecute, FIFA and the Brazilian government may find it more difficult to press charges against the likes of Nike and Dre Beats.

The legal battle against ambush marketing is tricky.  Social media has blurred the lines between ambush by association and good business strategy.  Ray Bednar, president of Hyperion Marketing Returns, said,

I cannot fathom the rationale for a brand the size of Coke or Visa to spend these sums of money in what is essentially a brand awareness play.  Yes, they are connecting the passion of the fan with their brand, but that can be done directly with a fraction of the money without paying the rights fees.

In the end, companies that ambush by association win out.  Viewers around the world read that players cannot wear their Dre Beats into the stadium due to FIFA’s protection of sponsorship.  According to Bill Briggs of NBC News, the savvy public quickly recognizes that players favor Dre Beats over Sony’s products.  In ambush marketing, there is no such thing as bad press.


What do you think about ambush marketing strategies and how it will impact FIFA’s sponsors and sponsorship laws in the future? Let us know in the comments section below, or via Facebook or Twitter.

Reporting on the business side of the world's game.