Ambush Marketing- Is It ethical? While a lot of discussion has been going on for quite some time on “Marketing ethics” including almost every aspect of marketing be it market research, market audience, pricing or marketing strategy. But none of these issues seem to be even close to the issues raised by the ethics of advertising and promotion and specifically “ambush marketing” in particular. Hence in this article we will take a quick look at the ever-increasing practice of ambush marketing, its origin, examples and its ethical concerns. Background:
The term “ambush” in literal terms means “an attack from a hidden position”, this in fact, is the founding stone of the term “ambush marketing”. “Ambush Marketing” was coined in the 1980’s by Jerry Welsh, the renowned marketing strategist, while he was working as a manager for global marketing efforts for American Express. When he coined the term, he referred it as a creative and legitimate marketing strategy which could provide a level playing ground to the competitors of a thematic sponsor. Today, however, the term is associated with a negative connotation.
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According to Wikipedia “ambush marketing refers to a company’s attempt to capitalize on the goodwill, reputation, and popularity of a particular event by creating an association with it, without the authorization or consent of the necessary parties. ” It is an attempt of the ambusher to associate itself with an event without paying the fee and get some rub-off effects from it. When implemented effectively, it diminishes the value of the actual sponsors of the event by confusing the customers Fig:Typical example of ambush marketing Fig1. :Jet airlines putting a billboard “we’ve changed” Fig1. 2:Kingfisher took the responsibility of making them change Fig1. 3:Go Air cashed in on the success of the two billboards There is a thin line between Ambush marketing and effective marketing practice. All the marketing strategies adopted by a rival company in the midst of an event cannot be called as ambush marketing. An activity is termed as ambushing only if the marketer is trying to endorse a specific product/event and by doing that the revenues of the main event are getting damaged. For example f spice jet shows its commercials in between a motor sports event, it will not be guilty of ambushing. But if Pepsi is launching a new ad campaign in between cricket world cup whose official sponsor is coke and it affects the sales of coke, it will be termed as an instance of ambushing. Fig:Pepsi ad during 1996 WC Strategies for ambush marketing can be broadly classified into two groups: Forging: In this form, a company misleads the people that the ambusher is one of the sponsors of the event by using a similar name or logo associated with the event while it is not.
For example, in 2002 Sydney Olympics, Quantas airlines changed its slogan to “The spirit of Australia” which was very close to the games slogan “Share the Spirit”. This was a classic case of ambush marketing as the official airline partner of the event was Ansett Air but the slogan of Quantas airlines suggested otherwise. Fig:Quantas airlines Intrusion: Here the ambusher tries to give its own name or trade mark through the medium of publicity of the event without seeking the permission of the organiser. This strategy uses the attention created by the event to promote the ambusher’s product.
This strategy is more popular with the ambushers now-a-days as forging can lead to legal actions and this is comparatively a risk-free strategy. A notable example of this strategy was in 2002 Boston Marathon, whose official sponsor was Adidas but Nike provided the runners with spray painted “swooshes” which suggested that the event was sponsored by Nike. Fig:2002 Boston Marathon In 2006 Bavaria Brewery gave away orange overalls called Leeuwenhosen to some of the fans to support the Netherlands football team with the brewery’s logo on them.
The FIFA officials asked the fans to remove the orange overalls as Budweiser was the official sponsor. Fig: Supporters wearing Leeuwenhosen By this time you all must have guessed the issues with ambushing, but then too let us reiterate some of the important ones. The first and the biggest of them is that it reduces the effectiveness of the advertisements of the original sponsors of the event and decreases their revenues. It can also lead to withdrawal of some of the sponsors from the event such as IBM and Mars from the Olympic TOP programme.
The sponsorships for these events are costly and by ambushing, these companies are deprived of their right to increase their visibility and thereby their customer base. Remedies for Ambushing: Ambushing has been gaining popularity ever since it came into existence which is causing a lot of concerns for the official sponsors of the event. Hence for better protection of the interests of the company certain strategies have evolved which could help the victim company to counter ambushing.
The major ones are Learn How to Ambush: This measure is based on the premise that if the knows how to ambush then it will also know the vulnerable points on which it could be ambushed and then it can try to plug those gaps through stringent contracts. Leveraging: These are supplementary measures such as ads aimed at increasing public awareness about the official sponsors of the event. Limit a non-sponsors capacity to advertise: By limiting the non-sponsors ability to advertise in the proximity of the event reduces the probability of ambushing through physical stalls, outlets etc.
This strategy is also known as “clean stadium” policy. Establish more control over advertising: This is one of the most important and one of the most difficult measures to exercise. Since reach of media to the viewers of an event is much more than the people actually coming and watching those events, it is very important for firms to try and limit the advertisements by non-sponsors. Educate Consumers: One of the most safest and effective measure is making the customers known about the official sponsors so that the ambushers cannot mislead the public.
Legal Restrictions: Stringent legal measures can act as deterrents to the practice of unethical ambushing. Is it ethical? Ambush marketing has changed its shape and form from 1980’s till today. But what is constant is the debate on whether it is ethical or not. The answer is very subjective. If you are asking this question to the sponsor of the event he might say that it is synonymous with crime and to an ambusher it might seem to be an intelligent marketing strategy. The viewpoints become completely reversed if the ambusher is made the sponsor and vice-versa.
My opinion about ambushing is same as the ambushers. Marketing as a field of study has always been associated with creativity and ambushing gives them a perfect platform for the same. In today’s world, where there is cut throat competition between corporates due to increasing competition and reducing margins, companies have to come up with such kind of measures to counter other. During the times of recession, when all the major economies of the world go to a standstill, it serves as a cost effective method of advertising.
For me it is not breaking the law or doing illegal, it is an intelligent use of the loopholes in the marketing practices of the other firm. If my rival is not aware of its shortcomings, I should use it to my advantage. Also, competition is not a game with set rules; if I am refraining from using ambush marketing today does not mean that my rival facing the same condition would not use ambush against me. In my viewpoint, it is one of the best methods of marketing involving minimum capital and maximum gains. What you think of ambushing is up to you to decide.