If a brand forks out hundreds of thousands, or millions, of dollars for exclusivity, it’s reasonable to expect that exclusivity be protected. In reality, that’s not always the case and big sporting events are especially attractive platforms for ambush marketing. It almost seems like a win-win for the ambushers: they get to duck huge sponsorship fees and often come out the winner in public opinion even if they are flouting the rules. Obviously this strategy isn’t popular with official sponsors or organisers. Prior to the Rugby World Cup, the New Zealand government even enacted legislation aimed at curbing unauthorised advertising at designated major events. Still, we can’t help but admire some of the more creative and gutsy ambushes brands around the world have pulled off. Here are a few notables.
Michael Johnson’s gold Nikes
Nike has a long history of ambushing Olympics marketing and it all started at the 1986 event. Reebok was the official sponsor, but it was Michael Johnson’s gold Nikes that people noticed. The American sprinter raced to gold several times in his iconic shoes, earning himself the nickname ‘the man with the golden shoes’. No one was talking about Reebok.
Steinlager’s White Can
During the 2011 Rugby World Cup, Steinlager, a long-time sponsor of the All Blacks, wasn’t allowed to mention the tournament, which was sponsored by Heineken. Lion claimed it was happier to have the All Blacks as a property. But it alluded to the event very cleverly by running a campaign based on a fan who decided to save a can of Steinlager from the All Blacks’ 1987 victory for the next win. Thankfully, he got the chance to open it.
The high-priced headphones made famous by Dr Dre are a desirable accessory for many athletes. A desire no doubt propelled by the fact that Beats has a history of supplying free pairs to high profile athletes. Several organisations have gone on to ban Beats from their official events, including the American NFL and FIFA, to avoid earning the ire of official electronics partners. The strategy seems to have backfired, with Beats co-founder Jimmy Iovine reveling in the subsequent slew of media attention.
Sepp Blatter flies Kulula
The South African airline made media waves when it offered to fly FIFA president Sepp Blatter for free during the World Cup in 2010. Blatter was not amused, but the company persisted in finding someone—anyone—named Sepp Blatter to fly. Instead they found a dog—and thus earned the right to officially call themselves Sepp Blatter’s airline.
Another Olympics ambush from Nike. Instead of focusing on the athletic greatness taking place in London, England, Nike filmed everyday athletic moments of greatness at other Londons around the world. Using the hashtag line #FindGreatness, Nike made a dig at the pomp and circumstance of the Olympics without actually mentioning it.