Have you ever felt upstaged by someone?

Imagine this for a moment: you’re having a conversation with a group of friends, and you attempt to make a joke. Just as you’re midway through your sentence, another person joins the group and cuts you off to make a better, well-timed joke. Of course, at that moment, the group diverts their attention from you.

As aggravating as that hypothetical may be, many advertisers see this particular brand of rudeness as a benefit. In fact, it is the backbone of ambush marketing, a strategy that makes itself known through interruption.

What is ambush marketing?

from JL1Row

Ambush marketing is one of the many subgroups of guerrilla advertising. It refers to a scenario in which a company rides the publicity of a huge event or company, all without contributing the expected financing or sponsorship.

This often occurs near the presence of sport-related events, such as football games, the Olympics, or motorsports. It can also appear at music concerts or even company-sanctioned rallies.

One famous example involves the cheeky “debate” between automobile companies, BMW and Audi. In the state of Wisconsin, BMW hosted a heavily publicized rally for their vehicles. Part of their campaign was to include this lengthy slogan:

“A BMW rally with two nearby service centers. What’s next, paramedics at a chess tournament?”

It didn’t take long before one of their competitors, Audi, purchased a billboard that mocked their campaign. All while advertising their newest model:

Image via Jalopnik

This is just one example of how Ambush marketing is done. It can be achieved by opening a pop-up shop right outside of a stadium, or by renting a billboard next to a huge concert. The possibilities are nearly limitless.

While there are many variations, ambush marketing can often be placed into two categories:

  • Predatory ambushing: As portrayed in the previous example, this is achieved by upstaging a rival brand. It uses the rival’s campaign or sponsorship to your advantage.
  • Coattail ambushing: This is a more mellow form of ambush marketing. It involves directly associating oneself with a particular event, without becoming an official sponsor. 

Let’s say that a football game was just around the corner. Instead of shilling thousands of dollars to the event, a company may purchase a nearby billboard. That billboard will then feature an image of a football, or an associated team member. This would be a great example of coattail ambushing.

As you can see, ambush marketing does not have to contain overt malice. The goal is more in line with finding cost-effective loopholes.

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The Benefits

There are many benefits when it comes to this strategy, including but not limited to:

  • Cost-Effectiveness: Although it’s a more expensive form of guerrilla marketing, the ambush tactic provides a cheaper alternative to becoming a sponsor.
  • Creativity: Using the loopholes associated with ambush marketing will allow your brand to create unique slogans and visuals. It provides marketers with a new, exciting task while encouraging them to think outside the box.
  • Attention-Grabbing: It’s not a secret that controversy sells. Both the overt comparisons to rivals and the direct association with sponsored events will make your brand stand out among the rest. 
  • Flexibility: Every outdoor advertiser knows that location is everything. When it comes to ambush marketing, you’re not confined to one area. So long as your message is clear, the advertisement can be right next to the event, or in the next city.

Perhaps the most unexpected benefit, however, is that the ‘victims’ of predatory ambushing can create a response. While this may sound like a bad thing at first, your ambush campaign could turn into a very fun back and forth. And believe it or not, this generates publicity for both parties.

Let’s go back to the example of BMW vs. Audi. As it turns out, their battle was far from over.

After releasing their cheeky billboard, Audi doubled down with an even larger billboard that read “Your move, BMW.”

Image via The Branding Journal

Of course, at this point, BMW couldn’t turn down a good game of chess. So, they responded. With an even bigger billboard in the exact location.

Image via Jalopnik

The two companies continued for one more round before BMW “ended” their game with none other than a giant blimp.

Image via Jalopnik

I think it’s safe to say that both companies won in the avenue of exposure.

The Consequences

What may come as a benefit to some, may pose as a detriment to other advertisers. Although friendly banter between combating companies can be nice, your ambushed party might not be amused.

As you could probably guess, ambush marketing is often frowned upon in the marketing world. For most national events, sponsorships are a huge part of the budget. Those fun Super Bowl nights, filled with nacho bowls and indecent cheering, wouldn’t exist without them.

So, when sponsors are paying all that money to be featured in a stadium, the last thing they want is for another company to take the spotlight.

Ambush marketing will naturally put rights holders at a tug-of-war with non-sponsors. In fear of losing their main source of revenue, many establishments are responsible for placing clever restrictions on the practice.

Some event organizers will conveniently buy all advertising space around their location. Others will launch an educational campaign to inform viewers of what sponsorship fees provide. Oftentimes, these campaigns will directly identify ambush marketers, giving them potential negative publicity.

And finally, event organizers will almost always have a legal team on hand. Their duty is to scope out any competition law or trademark violations. For example, the NFL keeps a strict trademark on the phrase “Super Bowl.”

If you’re planning on creating an ambush marketing campaign, you must research the restrictions based on your area of interest. No amount of clever design choices is worth a future lawsuit.

Create A Stellar Ambush Marketing Campaign

from Litmus

So, you may be wondering, ”where do I begin?”  Fortunately, the idea of creating a stunning ambush marketing campaign isn’t far out of reach. Here are a few tips:

  • First and foremost, you’ll need a designer: A professional designer will lend legitimacy to your ad.
  • Location matters: Try to get your ad as close to the event as possible. 
  • Analyze what rivals are doing: This is very important when creating your design, and establishing the location.
  • Research legal barriers: As stated before, large establishments will be on the lookout for any small violation. Always be mindful of the law.

Following these steps, you’ll be on your way to developing a hilarious, attention-grabbing, and memorable advertisement.

Featured image from rockcontent.com