Ambush marketing has become increasingly sophisticated in recent years. As event organisers have maximised the commercial value of official sponsorship, sponsors in turn expect the event organiser to protect their investment in the event. This summer’s sporting calendar was primed for ambush marketing. The event organisers knew this. The difficulty they faced was that a key component of any ambush is the element of surprise. So how do you protect your event?
With the London Games drawing to a close, we look at an example of marketing that seemed to succeed in ambushing the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (LOCOG), and some of the lessons that can be learned.
With the London Games and Paralympics Act 2006 (the “2006 Act”) and its subordinate legislation LOCOG was well prepared for the threat of ambush marketing. The 2006 Act introduced a raft of measures intended to protect the London 2012 brand and the rights of the official sponsors. This included exclusion zones designed to prevent ambush marketing around venues and the creation of the London Olympics Association Right (LOAR). LOAR is infringed by use, without consent, of any representation that is likely to suggest an association between the London Games and particular goods or services.
The Irish bookmaker Paddy Power has a history of creative ambush marketing. Previous efforts have included sponsoring Tongan rugby player Epi Taione to change his name to Paddy Power for the duration of the 2007 Rugby World Cup and sponsoring Danish footballer Nicklas Bendtner to flash his Paddy Power branded underpants during the UEFA Euro 2012 finals (for which Bendtner received a €100,000 fine).
To ambush the London Games, Paddy Power used a billboard and the sponsorship of an egg and spoon race. This particular race was due to take place in the town of London in Burgundy, France. The resulting advert stated:
“Official sponsor of the largest athletics event in London this year! There you go, we said it (ahem London, France that is)”
The billboards were displayed prominently in London train stations and formed part of Paddy Power’s “We Hear You” campaign. LOCOG wrote to the owner of the billboards instructing them to remove the adverts. Paddy Power had anticipated this and announced that it intended to seek a court order declaring that the billboard did not breach LOAR. In a statement, Paddy Power said:
“It’s a pity they didn’t put the same energy into the ticketing and security arrangements for the Games that they put into protecting their sponsorship revenue streams.”
Before the court application was made, LOCOG informed Paddy Power that it would not insist on the adverts being removed. In a final move to influence public perception, Paddy Power confirmed on its blog that it intended to seek to recoup its legal costs and these would then be donated to grassroots sports initiatives throughout the UK.
What can be learned?
Few sporting events can expect protection to the level afforded by the 2006 Act and the accompanying investment to enforce these rights. Aside from the Paddy Power example there were relatively few incidences of ambush marketing at the London Games. The level of preparation and enforcement in London ensured that the risk was minimised.
Event organisers should consider the risk of ambush marketing in advance of their event. Organisers should look at ticket terms and think about conditions and how these could be enforced in practice.
However any event that has significant sponsorship is at risk of ambush marketing. Whether it is golf, tennis, swimming, rugby or football there will always be someone looking to take advantage.
An event organiser will not have the team of 300 enforcement officers that the Olympic Delivery Authority deployed at the London Games. Despite this, organisers should ensure that any plan prepared in advance of the event is implemented and enforced.
Those attending the event should also be made aware of the approach that will be taken to any ambush marketing and the individuals responsible for enforcement should be briefed on the appropriate response to be taken.
The real success of the Paddy Power advert was not the billboard itself but the response it provoked from LOCOG. The advert used humour to endear itself to the public and Paddy Power had anticipated LOCOG’s reaction.
Before seeking to enforce its rights, any event organiser should consider carefully what the effect of the action will be. Legal action may be perceived as heavy-handed and may only serve to increase the reach of the advertiser’s campaign.