Imagine an international event in a cricket stadium for which brand A is the official sponsor. Enter brand B, which is not a sponsor but uses marketing techniques and strategies that leave an impression on the audience of it being the primary sponsor.

Simply put, brand A has been ambushed by brand B.

Ambush means catching someone by surprise. In other words, a sneak attack.

Ambush marketing is a brand’s attempt to hijack the spotlight from a rival without buying the rights or the sponsorship for an event. The brand attempting to ambush, if successful in the attempt, gains the upper hand in raising awareness about itself by capitalising on the rezsources and efforts of the competitor brand.

Pepsi's Nothing official about it is the perfect example of ambush marketing.

In the dynamic and transitional world of advertising, let us look at how ambush marketing has evolved to include advertisements in addition to just sponsorship.

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Putting a stop to ‘free rides’

Sporting events are such a common place for ambush marketing instances that oftentimes, sports committees have to officially take steps to curb the ambush.

Recently, the Professional Golfing Association changed its player endorsement policy to avoid any ambush by competitor brands. With this measure, the PGA Tour “ wants to ensure sponsors from competing tours don’t get a free ride”.

Following this action, many golfers defying the PGA Tour to join the rival LIV Golf are being dropped by their corporate sponsors.

This is not the first time that an official organisation stepped up against ambush marketing. 

In 2004, the Japanese Olympic Committee made explicit their stance on intolerance against ambush marketing.

Are you wondering why this hitch-hiking advertising concept is so lucrative for brands even when authorities try to veer away from it?

According to a study by Synovate, 53% of consumers believe ambush marketing is just as effective as official sponsorship.

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In case you’re wondering, guerilla marketing is where brands use unconventional methods to catch customers' attention.

Brands use it widely as it is:

  • Cost-effective: Tactics used are typically low-cost or even free, which makes them accessible to businesses of all sizes
  • Unconventional: The strategies often involve unconventional approaches that are unexpected and catch your attention
  • Engaging: It focuses on engaging with potential customers in a way that encourages them to interact with the brand
  • Viral potential: Campaigns often have the potential to go viral, spreading quickly through social media and other channels

An excellent example of guerilla marketing is BBC’s Dracula.

It’s all in the shadows

It brings the being alive by playing with shadows. This was guaranteed to make you stop and look… maybe even scare you a bit!

They also gave an emergency weapon in case things get a little too real!

When brands adopt these unconventional methods of guerilla marketing to coat-tail their competitors’ marketing efforts, it is called ambush marketing. Look at how Nike crushed AND1 and how!

You want freestyle? You’ve got freestyle!

In the early 2000s, freestyle streetball was all the rage. AND1, a new brand, came onto the scene and fully capitalised on the trend. With the onslaught of AND1’s marketing, Nike lost its comfortable market share.

Yes, Nike was impacted! To counter this, they launched the freestyle basketball commercial that blew AND1 away and solidified Nike’s position as the undisputed king of basketball merchandise.

But ambush marketing can be tricky to deal with, as experienced by Bavaria Beer for a stunt they tried to pull during FIFA World Cup.

Beer brand landed in a soup

During the 2010 FIFA World Cup, Bavaria Beer thought they had cracked the best strategy with a mix of guerrilla and ambush marketing..

36 women dressed in Orange (the national colour of the Netherlands) were placed in the stadium during the Netherlands vs Denmark match. As they were not official sponsors, Bavaria Beer was in violation and was removed from the stadium. However, their marketing stunt worked, as it got them media coverage.

Like they say, negative publicity is still publicity.

Let us look at some amusing coat-tail marketing examples.

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BMW vs Audi

BMW and Audi have always had a funny rivalry, but it went full-scale with chess references, who was the winner? You decide!

DHL being sneaky

DHL is one of the world’s biggest logistics companies. However, no matter how big you get, you will always have competition. Two of DHL’s biggest competitors are FedEx and UPS.

Is it really worth it?

While on the one hand, ambush marketing

  • - Gives abundant creative freedom
  • - Does not require huge investments (like sponsorship fees)
  • - Can optimise your brand image and perception
  • - Lets a brand be carefree about complying with sponsorship agreements

On the other hand,

  • - Brands need to identify the gaps, plan a strategy and act quickly
  • - Financial benefits can be difficult to access
  • - It increases dependence on the competitor’s efforts
  • - Brands may end up violating the ‘fair play’ rules and hurt their reputation

We will let you decide whether to do it or not!