Ambush Marketing: How to Support Your Team Without Litigation

Aug 5, 2016 | Digital

Few events start national and global conversations the way major sporting events do. It is tempting to try ambush marketing to capitalize on the Olympics, Super Bowl, March Madness or any other event watched by millions in order to bring attention to your own brand. However, these events have parent organizations who rely on paid sponsorships for revenue.

Organizations, such as the National Football League and the U.S. Olympic Committee, do not want brands profiting off of them unless they are willing to pay. So if you are not an official sponsor, you are restricted by copyright law on what you can do and say in relation to the event.

Sounds simple, right?  Well, that is until you glance at the list of restricted phrases the USOC, for example, released this year. Phrases you might think are commonplace, are actually copyrighted by the Olympics, including “Team USA” and “Go for the Gold.” And the USOC has specifically pointed to tweets using these (and others) as hashtags as off-limits for non-sponsors. Even retweeting an official post or wishing an athlete good luck may land you in trouble.

So how can your brand participate in the global conversation during such major sporting events?

Extra points for creativity.

A quick wit and a little work around can go a long way when it comes to ambush marketing.

Because, after all, the primary goal for ambush marketing isn’t avoiding litigation; it’s making a lasting impression on an already receptive and engaged audience.

Here are some of our favorite, totally legal, examples of ambush marketing:

Oreo, Super Bowl 2013

OK, so Oreo did spend a pretty penny on an official Super Bowl commercial, but it was the low cost tweet that sent audiences ablaze. During the game’s blackout, the cookie company was smart enough to post a quick, simple tweet and image that showed the brand was just as engaged as every other fan.

Nike, London Olympics 2012

Nike’s clever creative and strategy was so effective, that more consumers recognized the apparel brand as an official sponsor of the Olympic games than its competitor, Adidas, who paid considerably more for its higher tier sponsorship. By placing inspirational ads of ordinary people in places called London around the world, the brand was able to capture the “spirit” of the Olympics while capturing attention.

Paddy Power, London Olympics 2012

These billboards were strategically placed in major transit areas surrounding the stadium. While the International Olympic Committee did try to have the ads removed, they were ultimately allowed to remain.

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