Ambush Marketing: World Cup Case Study

Estimated Reading time: 7 minutes • Settembre 15, 2010

In the competitive world of advertising and sports, it’s not surprising that ambush marketing has become a commonly used tactic. With the ever-increasing cost media rights putting pressure on of global sports marketing media, advertising on sports has become a costly proposition for brands worldwide. 

Ambush Marketing vs. Costly Sponsorship

Estimates on the cost of sports marketing, such as sponsorizzazione and advertising, have risen significantly in the past decade to keep pace with the cost of media rights paid by broadcasters and streamers. In 2023, the size of the global sports sponsorship market exceeded $100 billion and is expected to almost double by 2030. In the US, sponsorship revenue for the NFL stood at almost 1.9 billion U.S. dollars in 2022 alone. Across the Atlantic, meanwhile, the size of the European sports sponsorship market surpassed 20 billion euros in 2022. 

It’s true that brands are always on the lookout for innovative ways to stand out. By creatively associating with major sporting events without paying for official sponsorships, ambush marketing offers brands clever ways to capture audience attention e maximize their return on investment. Ambush marketing is a growing temptation for brands that are simply tapped out amid the growing costs of traditional sports marketing partnerships.

Let’s dive into what ambush marketing is, why it’s so appealing, and some recent examples of how it’s being used effectively.

What is Ambush Marketing?

Ambush marketing is a strategy brands use to align themselves with major events without paying for official sponsorship… sneaky, right? This cheeky approach allows companies to gain exposure and capitalize on the event’s popularity while tactfully avoiding the high costs associated with official partnerships. By creating campaigns that relate in some way to the event and resonate with the event’s audience, ambush marketers effectively ‘hijack’ the event’s publicity, often resulting in significant brand visibility and consumer engagement.

The Rising Costs of Media in Sports

The cost of media rights and advertising in sports has skyrocketed in recent years, likely due to the ever-growing sports industry. Global sports media rights are projected to exceed $60 billion by 2024, making it increasingly difficult for brands to afford official sponsorships. For instance, partnering with events like the Olympics or the FIFA World Cup can cost hundreds of millions of dollars. For example, Simone Biles, the iconic olympic women’s gymnastics champion, has a starting sponsorship cost of $100,000. As a result, ambush marketing presents an attractive alternative for brands looking to maximize their return on investment without breaking the bank. To understand the nuances of targeting options for brand awareness, visit Criterion Global’s detailed guide on brand awareness.

Ambush Marketing Examples in Sports – Case Studies:

FIFA World Cup 2022 – Vodafone: During the 2022 FIFA World Cup, Vodafone executed a standout ambush marketing campaign with its “We Fan Together” initiative. Despite not being an official sponsor, Vodafone successfully outperformed the official telecom provider, Ooredoo, in visibility and impact among fans traveling to Doha, Qatar where the event was held. Vodafone strategically placed kiosks at Doha’s international airport and key locations around the city, making it easy for incoming fans to pick up their offerings. They created football-themed areas, such as one in Mashreib, a major fan-gathering site, enhancing their presence and engagement among the target audience. Their advertising efforts extended to metro stations serving stadiums, a giant digital screen visible from the Corniche, and even branded luggage trolleys at the airport. Vodafone’s pervasive presence led many fans to mistakenly perceive them as the official telecom provider of the World Cup. Through clever positioning and extensive media buys, Vodafone effectively captured the attention of World Cup visitors and fans, demonstrating the power of a well-executed ambush marketing strategy.

FIFA World Cup 2022 – Etihad Airways: Qatar Airways was FIFA’s official airline partner and had exclusive rights to use the governing bodies’ official trademarks related to the World Cup in 2022. With accommodation at a premium in Qatar, many supporters chose to stay in the UAE and travel to games. Etihad Airways capitalized on this by launching a campaign featuring retired footballer Clarence Seedorf and UFC legend Khabib Nurmagomedov. The campaign promoted their frequent flights from Abu Dhabi to Doha, subtly referring to the World Cup as “the biggest football tournament of 2022.” This strategic move allowed Etihad to benefit from the event’s visibility without infringing on FIFA’s trademarks or directly mentioning the World Cup. 

​​Euro 2012 – Paddy Power and Nicklas Bendtner: During the Euro 2012 tournament, Danish footballer Nicklas Bendtner was fined €100,000 for revealing branded underwear from Paddy Power after scoring a goal. Despite not being an official sponsor, this ambush marketing stunt by Paddy Power generated significant media coverage and public attention, effectively promoting the brand without an official partnership. When the story generated buzz, Paddy Power stepped up and gained even more publicity for the story by putting out another story that it called Bendtner’s “barmy penalty”. 

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2012 London Olympics – Beats by Dre: Another notable ambush marketing example è Beats by Dre’s campaign during the 2012 London Olympics. Although not an official sponsor, Beats provided athletes with custom headphones, which they were seen wearing throughout the games. This clever move circumvented official sponsorship rules and garnered extensive visibility.

2010 Winter Olympics: Lululemon: Lululemon, a Canadian athletic apparel company, executed a clever ambush marketing campaign during the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. They released a special line of clothing called the “Cool Sporting Event That Takes Place in British Columbia Between 2009 & 2011 Edition,” which humorously referenced the Olympics without violating trademark rules. This creative approach allowed Lululemon to associate itself with the Olympic spirit without being an official sponsor. The Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games (VANOC) could not take legal action because Lululemon’s campaign didn’t use any protected Olympic trademarks, demonstrating a brilliant way to navigate around strict sponsorship regulations. This creative approach allowed the company to associate itself with the Olympic spirit without being an official sponsor​.

These are only a few of many brilliant ambush marketing examples, highlighting creative ways brands engage with large audiences while avoiding the prohibitive costs of official sponsorships. Ambush marketing in sports continues to evolve, allowing brands to effectively navigate the competitive landscape and achieve significant ROI.

Ambush Marketing in the 2024 Olympics: What to Expect

As the 2024 Paris Olympic and Paralympic Games approach, the potential for ambush marketing is higher than ever. Global digital ad spending is expected to grow 16% in 2024, up from 15% last year. Digital is expected to comprise the majority of TV spending for the first time, with 52% of the TV market compared to 48% for linear. The 2024 Paris Olympic and Paralympic Games are expected to attract an unprecedented global audience and a wide arrange of sponsors eager to take advantage of high viewership estimates. Estimates suggest that the Olympic Games will be watched by over 3 billion viewers worldwide, surpassing the viewership of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics due to more convenient broadcasting times for American audiences. Additionally, the Games will feature over 150,000 hours of programming, offering extensive coverage that will significantly boost engagement, particularly in the U.S. market​​. Overall, the Paris 2024 Games are poised to be a monumental event in terms of viewership and global engagement, making it one of the most-watched sporting events in history…. And a great opportunity for non-sponsored brands to ambush. 

Many brands will be seeking ways to sneakily associate themselves with the Olympics without paying for sponsorship. Before they do, however, they will have to navigate through a tough legal maze that isn’t for the faintest of heart. The French government has enacted specific legislation, such as Article L.141-5 of the French Sports Code and Law No. 2018-202, to protect the official emblems, slogans, and symbols of the Games from unauthorized use. These laws, along with many others, ensure that only official sponsors can utilize Olympic trademarks, reducing the likelihood of ambushes and consumer confusion while protecting the investments of official partners​​.

Despite these protections, we have no doubt we will see companies employing their best creative tactics to associate with the Games. For example, using humor or offbeat messaging that does not directly reference the Olympics but evokes the spirit of the event can be a way to skirt around legal restrictions. This approach was seen in past events, such as Paddy Power‘s clever billboards during the 2012 London Olympics and Lululemon’s “Cool Sporting Event” clothing line during the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics​​. With these strategies in mind, brands eyeing the 2024 Paris Olympics will need to navigate carefully within the legal framework while aiming to capture the audience’s attention through innovative and indirect references to the Games. This careful balance of creativity and compliance will define successful ambush marketing efforts this year​.

Ambush Marketing: The Future

Ambush marketing remains a powerful tool for brands to gain visibility during high-profile events without the hefty price tag of official sponsorships. As the cost of media in sports continues to rise, the appeal of ambush marketing grows stronger. Through innovative and often controversial tactics, brands can successfully capitalize on major events and achieve substantial returns on investment.

For specific guidance on how to harness the power of ambush marketing to benefit your business, contattateci.

Further Reading:For more information on how to leverage ambush marketing and other media strategies, visit Criterion Global’s expert insights e case studies.



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