Dutch brewer received significant media coverage last year when a large
contingent of women attended the Holland versus Denmark game in orange
minidresses bearing its logo. The stunt led to arrests and charges by
FIFA that the company had engaged in ambush marketing. As South African
authorities attempted to sort out what led to the incident, the game
was over. Bavaria, meanwhile, had made an impact.
“Ambush marketing is the type of thing where there’s no such thing as
bad publicity,” Ayala Deutsch, NBA’s senior vice president and chief
intellectual property counsel, said yesterday at the panel Trademarks
in Sports: Ambush Marketing and Protecting Athlete Names and Images.
Indeed, brand owners are being increasingly creative in finding ways to
benefit from the publicity of major sports events without being
official sponsors. The Bavaria stunt falls under grassroots campaigns,
while others have used sweepstakes, product giveaways and implications
of association using indirect references or images.
But a balance has to be struck. Successful ambush marketing can confuse
consumers, and make events less attractive to official
sponsors—potentially reducing future revenues.
“This is not exclusively a consumer confusion protection issue,” Deutsch said.
To protect sponsors’ rights, many event organizers expect or require
the host country to enact temporary laws on ambush marketing. In
November last year, an INTA Board Resolution set out principles and
guidelines that should be considered when countries consider adopting
ambush marketing legislation in order to minimize any detrimental
effects on existing trademark rights, other pre-existing rights, and
In 2006, following the International Olympic Committee’s decision to
stage the 2012 Games in London, the London Olympic Games and
Paralympics Games Act was introduced. The law outlines what brand
owners can and can’t do in their advertising. Companies that aren’t
official sponsors, for example, can’t use “games” and “London” in the
same advertisement. The Act is “unique, new and different—some might
say draconian,” said Jeremy Dickerson of Burges Salmon in the UK.
Because the effects of ambush marketing tactics often outlast the
events they’re connected with, the challenge for authorities is
enforcing the rules. “This has to be done very, very quickly,”
Dickerson said. “One day would be too long, an hour about right.”
“I wish them luck getting that done quickly,” he added, drawing some laughs from the crowded room.
And the risk for events organizers is that too much enforcement can
backfire, as they are accused of being heavy-handed, as Ross Parsonage,
of Rouse in Beijing, explained. But, he added: “If the law isn’t not
used against the large brand owners who are ambushing, why have it?”
As brand owners prepare for the London Olympic Games, they may look to
Beijing 2008 for reference. Speedo and Puma both gained coverage on the
heels of the successes of the athletes wearing their lines, despite not
being sponsors. Perhaps the most iconic image of the Games was of
Chinese gymnast Li Ning running across an unscrolling screen to light
the torch. He, by the way, helms a major athletic company. “Ambush
marketing has changed, and it’s no longer about fixed outdoor
advertising,” said Parsonage.