Jul 07, 2009 at 03:33 PM
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New Research on the Art of the Ambush

If 2009 was the year of the cutback, 2010 may very well be the year of the ambush. There are many properties, and deep pocketed sponsors, that are out to make sure that doesn't happen. Nevertheless, marketers continue to look for clever and cost-efficient ways to tie-in to major events like the World Cup and Olympics, while properties are seeking to vigorously defend their sponsors (and their value proposition) in a tighter spending environment. Good timing for Nicholas Burton and Simon Chadwick, who have been studying ambush marketing at Coventry University Business School in England. Burton and Chadwick recently looked at 350 potential ambush examples in an ongoing effort to define the practice, identify the ramifications of it and explore practical solutions for preventing it. It's a highly recommended read for any high profile sponsor or property. Here's the definition they propose for the common, but often maligned practice:

Ambush marketing is a form of associative marketing which is designed to capitalize on the awareness, attention, goodwill, and other benefits, generated by having an association with an event or property, without an official or direct connection to that event or property.

In their most recent white paper, A Typology of Ambush Marketing, they point out that the practice has evolved over time from broadcast sponsorship campaigns and billboard advertising around venue to more aggressive off-site strategies that go as far as to get fans to distribute the ambush marketer's messages for them. Here's a few of the more recent cases they cite:


Interestingly, of the cases they studied approximately 10% ended up in lawsuits or legal procedures of some nature. While many ambushers take special effort to skirt the legal boundaries, the report suggest that in some cases official properties and sponsors may have some success with proving misappropriation of goodwill or unfair competition. Intellectual property claims were also common among these cases. Unfortunately, legal remedies can often bring uncertain results, high costs and even more publicity to the offending party.

In 2004, John Crompton issued a report entitled "Sponsorship ambushing in sport" that outlined these categories of ambush:

  • the sponsorship of event broadcasts or television time around an un-sponsored event
  • the sponsorship of associated entities (other than the organizers/rights holders)
  • the use of advertising media near/in proximity of the event/venues;
  • advertising using a theme or implied association;
  • creating a competitive attraction to distract from the event;
  • accidental ambushing of an event due to a lack of diligence on the part of the organizer

    Chadwick and Burton build on this by classifying twelve (some new and some old) prevalent ambush strategies such as associative, insurgent, predatory, coat-tail ambush and even "pre-emptive" ambush, whereby an official sponsor essentially ambushes itself by buying up assets outside of its official rights to supplement the association and "pre-empt" an ambush.

    As further research goes into the practice, properties and sponsors may be able to identify both proactive and reactive (read: legal) remedies for ambush practices. Of course, one way to prevent against ambush will always be to come up with the most compelling, mindshare dominating activation platform. As an official sponsor, you're at an inherent advantage.

    What's your opinion on ambush marketing? Take our quick poll.

    For a full list of Coventry's ongoing papers on ambush, visit their site.

    Photo cred: Abir Sultan, IDF Spokesperson