NEED TO KNOW: Ambush marketing

For those unfamiliar with this gung-ho sounding expression, 'ambush marketing' is a practice designed to divert attention from official sponsors typically in relation to sporting events.
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Attention is diverted by encouraging the public to think that there is an association between the marketer and the event. However, it won’t be legal to mention the event if the owner has registered it as a trademark.

Typically, the more skilled ambush marketers will carefully navigate around the minefield of trademarks supporting the event or team and still manage to create for the public an impression of a link between the ambush marketer and the event.

The problem with registered trade mark (and unregistered trade mark or 'passing off') protection for event organisers is that inevitably it has still left much unprotected. Likewise, longstanding legislation to prohibit unofficial use of the word 'Olympics' and the 5 rings symbol helped for previous Olympics, but not enough to prevent ambush marketing.

The problem was that ambushers were able to allude to the event without mentioning the official name in full, or even at all; for example, reference in the UK to 'the 2008 Games' might still be lawful, depending on the context.

Memorable examples of successful (and legal) ambush marketing from past years include Nike handing out branded flags for spectators to wave in front of television cameras at the Atlanta Olympic Games in 1996 and buying up the majority of billboard space around the stadium in Atlanta, even setting up its own ‘Nike Village’ next to the official sponsor’s village.

Event organisers don’t just rely on trademarks; there are other practical steps which can be taken to reduce the ambush opportunities; for example, buying up hoarding-space at the time of an event and ensuring stadia include within their ticket conditions the right to prevent display of unofficial brands, are to name but two.

Even this hasn’t been full proof though, as was demonstrated in the 2006 World Cup when Bavaria, a Dutch brewer, ambushed Budweiser’s official sponsorship by giving out orange branded lederhosen to Dutch ticket-holders to put on before they entered the stadium. Bavaria rightly calculated that the organisers would not want to shut out such a mass of valid ticket-holders for fear of the stadium appearing half empty and providing knock-on problems with selling the televised product.

The brewer also hoped that stadium staff would be too squeamish to force fans to remove their shorts to gain entry, but in this case clearly misjudged both the resolve of the German stadium staff to carry out such ‘dirty’ work and of the extent to which Dutch fans will go to display their love for their team, as fans were permitted entry only upon removal of their shorts!


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Rainbow Designs Ltd I Olympia, London I Salary: Competitive I Date Published Wednesday 16th January 2019