Ambush marketing during the World Cup and other big sports events

No, Beats by Dr. Dre is not an official partner of the FIFA World Cup. Yet many people might think they are. Half way through the World Cup an analysis by the Global Language Monitor found that Beats had a higher global association with the FIFA World Cup than Sony, official partner of the tournament. It shows that without the cost of being an official partner a great ambush marketing strategy, preferably within the boundaries of the law, can get a brand highly associated with an event. But how should brands ambush an event?

1. High degree of creativity

First of all, ambushers need a high degree of creativity. Without the advantage of being an official partner, brands do not have the exclusive right to use event logos and make direct associations to the event. At the same time event organizers will do everything in their power to prevent ambush marketing from happening, because it decreases the value of being an official sponsor.

Creativity can come in the form of planning a great ambush marketing strategy beforehand, as many brands try to do. But it can also be by quickly and creatively adapting to a story or incident. The Suarez-case during the World Cup was a perfect opportunity for many brands to come up with something clever and create some buzz. A great example is how Snickers did this (see above). By saying ‘Snickers – more satisfying than Italian’ they related to the incident while not really judging the act. Well played with over 48000 retweets. Snickers tweeted more great pictures during the World Cup.

2. Target the stars

Linking your brand to stars is another must for great ambush marketing. Athletes using your brand at events such as the World Cup is even better. Fans are far more receptive to a message, or product, when it is coming from their idols.

Beats by Dr. Dre has been doing a great job targeting stars. And because of it, the headphone has an image of being cool and fashionable. Beats too, just as many other brands these days, made a short movie about how star football players Neymar, Fabregas, van Persie and others use Beats to prepare for their biggest challenge yet (see top of the page). ‘The game before the game’, as the commercial is called, has already generated 22,6 million views on YouTube.

3. Create social media buzz

Twitter, Facebook and other social media are the ideal place for ambushers to get their message across. Preferred is a creative message that gets a lot of positive attention and that people will remember. At the same time it should activate people to share with their network.

The Nike ‘The Last Game” campaign checks the box of being creative. It also checks the box of linking to the World Cup without directly referring to it (in this case by playing football in favelas). By gradually releasing more of ‘the story’ Nike made people come back and turned them into fans. Fans share the content with their online network. The downside to this campaign: some players involved were not at the World Cup because they did not qualify or were injured. Others were quickly eliminated from the competition. So the buzz went down as the World Cup progressed.

Another way to create social buzz is to listen to your online fans. What are they saying? The best way to gain social buzz after all, is when the buzz has already started.

4. Publicity beyond social media

After creating social media buzz, it is often just a matter of time before more traditional media will publish articles. Obviously as a brand you prefer positive news, but sometimes even bad publicity is good publicity.

A great example on how publicity worked positively for a brand is the Bavaria-case during the South Africa World Cup. Bavaria made orange dresses and had a group of women in the audience during a football match. Since Bavaria is not and was not the official sponsor, FIFA wanted the ladies out. They went as far as putting several in jail. A news story was born, and luckily for Bavaria the world press chose their side. Free publicity!

The ambush marketing strategy

So to score big around an event as a non-sponsor asks for a great creative ambush marketing strategy. It has to link the brand with the event and the athletes competing in it. Social media buzz should be created in such proportion that media outlets pick it up and you gain free publicity.

An example of a brand that did this all is Beats. Yes, the headphones again. Earlier this year right before the Superbowl, one of the biggest sports event with a television audience of 111,5 million viewers and 24,9 million Tweets during the game, the company gave away diamond-encrusted headphones (not cheap, but pretty creative) to all players (the stars). Well, no surprise, the players were happy with the gift and shared their joy online. Social buzz was created and it was a matter of time before media outlets wrote about it.

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