Ambush Marketing is It Ethical, Professional or Just Plain Parasitic?
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Ambush Marketing is It Ethical, Professional or Just Plain Parasitic?

Many people do not even know what “Ambush Marketing” is all about, but the concept has been rocketed in the headlines at the Soccer World Cup, because of the arrest of some 30 beautiful young ladies who allegedly were promoting a European Brand of Beer by wearing orange colored skirts.

Just recently, something rather amusing happened at the Soccer World Cup: One of the TV cameras zoomed in on a lone pigeon which had settled on the goal posts, and it was serenely poised there, whilst the game was in progress, totally oblivious to all the hype of the International exposure it was getting to a worldwide audience of some 6 billion people! Next day, local radio picked up on this relatively insignificant event, and the announcer remarked that the bird was doing some “Ambush “Marketing” for a well known local fried chicken outlet.

Many people do not even know what “Ambush Marketing” is all about, but the concept has been rocketed in the headlines at the Soccer World Cup, because of the arrest of some 30 beautiful young ladies who allegedly were promoting a European Brand of Beer by wearing orange colored skirts.

A storm in a beer mug? Let us examine the concepts:

Ambush marketing, whichever way it is presented could be to waylay, ensnare, set a trap, attack from a concealed position, bait a hook, decoy…..all encapsulated in ONE word – AMBUSH!

In the modern world of highly competitive marketing, the words “Ambush marketing” can be like a red rag to a bull, and have now taken on an entirely different meaning. Some would even say sinister! Let me explain……

Ambush marketing has now become a seriously professional marketing campaign taking place around a public event (mostly sport) which does not involve the payment of the normal sponsorship fee to the organizers of the event.

It is now widely known that, for most events of any significance, a specific brand (e.g. Coca Cola, Nike, McDonalds, Kentucky Fried Chicken) will pay a significant, predetermined contract fee for them to be recognized as THE exclusive, and therefore “Official” sponsor of that event.

The “Ambush Marketing” can then occur when OTHER brands scheme ways to somehow promote themselves in connection with the same event. As mentioned earlier regarding the incident surrounding the Bavarian Beer and the ladies in orange at the Soccer World Cup, the ladies concerned were expelled, somewhat publicly, by the FIFA officials – and the outcome has been a great deal of acrimony all round, including some international friction. It has been claimed that successful ambush marketing diminishes the value of an official sponsorship. Another tag now applied to the Ambush tactic is “parasitic” marketing.

The reality is though, throughout the world, consumers, you and I, are bombarded by many thousands of advertising messages on a daily basis. This can pose a major headache for the marketers, which means that they have had to be very innovative in their bid to cut through all the clutter.

Here are some of the unique approaches:

GraffitiSo called Guerilla marketers carefully stencil messages on to side-walks; paste a variety of stickers on to walls; embankments; men’s urinals, and then even on top of competitor’s ads! Viral marketers generate BUZZ by way of using Twitter, Mixxit, SMS, word-of-mouth, and e-mail. “Ambient” marketers brandish evocative signs or placards, and then distribute their product samples to passersby at traffic intersections. As much as these tactics are controversial, it seems that none has provoked more angst than the ambush marketing campaign. It seems as though what they are aiming for, is quite simply, to attach their product to highly publicized events. Examples include the Hollywood Academy Awards, Olympic Games and Soccer World Cup – all without incurring the expense of sponsorship fees. (incidentally, this can be substantial – amounting to many billions of dollars)

In surprising contrast to this though, it seems that in the US marketing environment, ambush marketing is, in general, mainly permitted and in fact, legal.

Although sponsors contend that ambush marketing is directed exclusively toward a perceived saving in sponsorship fees, it may not necessarily result in cost cutting for them. Indeed, many companies simply use it as a ploy, in an effort to simply stand out from the paying sponsor – often by very skillfully subverting their messages.

Critics of this approach assert that it devalues the impact of genuine sponsorships and could ultimately make events such as the Indian Professional Cricket League, Olympic Games and Soccer World Cup financially impossible.


There are a spectrum of examples of ambush marketing – ranging from selling counterfeit World Cup Jerseys and other paraphernalia to the utterly innocent…e.g. taking a client to the Super Bowl.

But what is the fuss really about? Cash? Market share. Ethics? Innovation. Greed? – The debate continues, and is now even hotting up.

Pictures by courtesy of Stock.xchng and Wikipedia Commons

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Comments (12)

Excellent article. I've sometimes felt that "networking" events in person felt like ambush marketing also.

Hi Lorena - what a valid thought! I know I felt "ambushed" by what will remain, unnamed multi-level events, and the people who you think want to make friends.......but.......

Thanks for another fascinating, well-written article, Colin. I had no idea of the sponsorship repercussions of ambush marketing.

excellent article, thank you

nice presentation on marketing, Colin.

Thanks for your valued input!

I would love to be in on one of their meetings for the advertising campaigns! but at the end of the day shouldn't they pay like everyone else to gain advertising space? I saw the bird on the back of the net, it was Saturdays very disappointing England game. I think the commentators were as bored as the rest of the world.

Soccer......yawn..that is why he bird become such a hit :-)

This was a brilliant discussion of a recent, very controversial trend in advertising. I think that even though ambush marketing is problematic, it can produce some incredible and creative adverts.

Thanks Michael - you just made my day!

Wow! What an amazingly detailed introduction to a subject that all of us should know about -- partially to escape the ambush!

There is a sequel to the Dutch Ladies case in SA - they were both exonerated and an "out of court" arrangement was achieved.......what a lot of fuss about something FIFA blew out of all proportion, and so BAVARIA has got the result they were looking for anyway - market exposure :-)