June 12, 2014 – Originally published by MarketingMag.ca

Manoj Raheja is a partner at Sklar Wilton & Associates, a Canadian marketing advisory firm.

On June 12, 2014, 32 teams from around the globe will begin the battle for football supremacy at the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.  Off the field, the battle between official FIFA sponsors and non-sponsoring brands is already heating up.

Manoj Raheja

For the past four years, World Cup sponsors, such as AdidasVisa and Budweiser, have been activating against their multimillion-dollar sponsorship deals, while the non-sponsors lurk in the background with their own marketing campaigns. The practice known as “ambush” or “barnacle” marketing is common during major international sporting events, as brands attempt to free-ride on interest in the tournament, without actually mentioning the event itself.

Ambush marketing isn’t new, and it can provide a way for brands to reach consumers without shelling out the often hefty sponsorship fees, but FIFA has issued a warning (and the threat of fines) to non-sponsors looking to boost sales through World Cup-related marketing. According to the Global Advertising Lawyers Alliance’s Ambush Marketing: A Global Legal Perspective, which summarizes laws governing ambush marketing in 52 countries, most don’t have stringent laws. As a result, we are seeing the emergence of event-based legislation, which Brazil enacted for the World Cup.

So, should brands get a red card for ambushing the World Cup or be applauded for bending it like Beckham to get around the rules and score?

Consider these two examples:

  • While Coca-Cola is an official partner this year, Pepsi countered by signing 18 of the world’s top players—known as the #FutbolNow lineup—to participate in global marketing activations leading up to and during the World Cup. Among the activations, Pepsi commissioned paintings and videos of the players to build their association with football and with consumers.
  • At the 2010 World Cup, non-sponsor drinks manufacturer Bavaria sent a group of 36 women in “Bavaria” orange dresses to attend the Holland-Denmark match. While they didn’t bear any FIFA logo, the marketing stunt was perceived as an “ambush” on the FIFA brand, which led to expensive and lengthy legal action, including criminal prosecutions (these were later dropped).

As brands find new ways to reach consumers, it’s critical to determine how to get the most out of your sponsorship. It’s no longer enough to simply slap your logo on an event and call it sponsorship; brands are looking for unique ways to bring memorable experiences to consumers and to engage them with the brand in a meaningful way. So, think about the complete ROI when considering how it will all unfold, and be aware that your brand could be ambushed by non-sponsors at any moment.
Did Bavaria cross the line by getting the benefit without paying to become an official World Cup sponsor? This feels like a red card, because Bavaria directly received brand exposure at the event that other sponsors paid for. On the other hand, it feels like Pepsi was successful in getting around the rules by choosing to sign and leverage football players instead of sponsoring the World Cup.

Four questions every marketer should think about when deciding whether or not to become an official sponsor of a major event:

Where to play

Which sponsorships can be a shared passion between your current/potential customers and your brand?

What to say

How can you leverage the sponsorship assets to deliver your brand message in a compelling way (going beyond “We are the official sponsor of…”)?

How to say it

How do you deliver your message in a way that taps into the high audience passion for the event, and in a way that can’t be replicated by ambushers?

Whether it’s working or not

What are the direct benefits (volume, media assets, etc.) and the indirect benefits (brand equity) that you need to deliver to make this a good return on investment?

As the drama unfolds on the World Cup pitch, so, too, will it unfold in the boardroom. Keep an eye on brand activations during the World Cup to see who deserves a red card, and who scores.

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