ing the affair most people wouldn't have noticed it,â says Krabel. âThen it became .... spell the end of traditional marketing and sponsorship. They will continue to ...
Why shell out millions sponsoring a high-profile event when you can just ambush it, usurping your competitors and whipping up a media storm in the process. Julian Rogers examines why this brazen form of guerrilla marketing is a weapon that should be in every CMO’s armoury.
t began as a run-of-the-mill World Cup Group E encounter between eventual finalists Holland and Denmark at Johannesburg’s Soccer City stadium this summer. Less than 24 hours later, the hot talking point wasn’t Holland’s distinctly uneventful two-nil victory but rather the hoo-ha surrounding a marketing ambush executed by Dutch brewer Bavaria. Soon after kick-off camera lenses fell on 36 young nubile ladies in the crowd sporting skimpy orange mini-dresses associated with family-owned Bavaria. They were on their feet chanting and clapping while garnering the attention of male Dutch supporters around them and millions watching on TV. It didn’t take long for football’s governing body, FIFA, to cotton on that this was a marketing ploy. Security swooped and ejected the alleged models masquerading as fans, even making arrests and confiscating passports. The official sponsor of the month-long tournament was Budweiser – the US beer giant paying an undisclosed few million euros for the privilege.
But much to the chagrin of the so-called ‘King of Beers’, a plucky European rival had suddenly stolen the limelight for a small fraction of its spend. Soon web and social networking sites were awash with chatter surrounding the stunt and it became the ‘did you see that?’ conversation over the office water cooler. “For a very reasonable investment, Bavaria was the most talked about brewer at the World Cup,” says Herbert Krabel, CEO of Guerrilla Communications. The story gained more mileage after it emerged that a TV football pundit’s allocation of tickets had ended up in the hands of Bavaria’s female fans. He was immediately sacked by the UK’s ITV. But the question is this: did FIFA’s heavy-handedness merely create more publicity for Bavaria? After all, this is a company that has form for this kind of marketing ploy, after having sent supporters wearing orange in lederhosen to the German World Cup four years ago. “The attempts by FIFA to stop the guerrilla marketing efforts actually helped Bavaria to get even more exposure because without the arrests and the circus surround-
“The idea is to outsmart the competition versus outspending them” Herbert Krabel, Guerrilla Communications
ing the affair most people wouldn’t have noticed it,” says Krabel. “Then it became gossip around the world and people everywhere looked it up.” In no time at all Bavaria had become the most searched for beer on the internet, despite the fact that the mini-dresses didn’t feature any logos or even the name of the brewer. However, the plan backfired to some extent in that armchair football fans heard a lot more about the official sponsor. “The stunt may actually have helped Budweiser too because people found out who the official sponsor was,” suggests Krabel. Continuing the sporting theme, last year Hugo Boss parked a sailboat emblazoned with the company’s logo off the coast of Scotland next to where the British Open golf tournament was taking place. Inevitably,
the boat provided the backdrop for many of the TV camera shots of the action. There are also plenty of examples of sportswear giants Nike, Adidas and Reebok being involved in stunts to upstage their rivals at high-profile events, particularly the Olympics. Perhaps the most notorious was at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona when Nike sponsored the press conferences with the US basketball team despite Reebok being the official games sponsor. Much to Reebok’s frustration, the US players covered their Reebok logos during ceremonies. Micheal Jordan, the jewel in Nike’s crown at the time, covered his Reebok logo when accepting his gold medal. Likewise, sprinter Linford Christie wore Puma contact lenses before the 100 metres final. Reebok had paid US$40 million for the privilege of being official sponsor. At the 1994 Winter Olympics in Norway, American Express ran ads saying American’s didn’t need ‘visas’ to visit the Visa-sponsored games. And in 2000, Qantas Airlines’ slogan ‘Spirit of Australia’ sounded similar to the Olympic Games’ slogan ‘Share the spirit’. Ansett Air, the official sponsor, was none too pleased. Some may deem this form of marketing clever and just part of the marketing game, while others may see it as overstepping the mark, but as Bavaria proved, the exposure can be priceless if the stunt is successful. However, don’t just assume that guerilla or ambush marketing is a cheap alternative to traditional advertising, says Krabel. “There is a gen-
eral myth that guerrilla marketing is cheap or location was quite stunning but it allowed Microfree, and that is not true. It can be more affordsoft to get a foot in the door. This marketing stunt The pros and cons of able, but the idea is to outsmart the competition created quite a buzz – Sony spent a huge amount ambush marketing versus outspending them.” But for brands without of money and the efforts by Microsoft certainly the marketing might of the big boys, slick gueweren’t cheap either, but Microsoft got the most Creates global exposure if rilla marketing is often the only option. “We’ll bang for their buck.” executed properly see more and more attempts by brands to be Similarly, Donovan says some consumers more clever than their competitors because most appreciate a bold statement like the one MicroCan be considerably cheaper brands don’t even have the option to do standard soft made that night. Microsoft isn’t short of a than sponsoring an event marketing,” Krabel explains. “They are forced to few euros, but to hire the barge and create the do something outside the box if they want to make slogan was thinking outside the box. “If you The stunt goes viral and the an impression.” don’t have the resources then this could work brand penetrates new markets Donovan Neale is the founder and Executive because your product or brand could appeal to a Director of the CMO Council – a global network consumer who appreciates cheekiness or someRevenues increase of 5000 marketing and branding chiefs. He says thing that is cool or hip. You want to connect the key here is to push the boundaries to get the with the consumer and make a statement.” But The ambush could backfire the organisers of global events are fighting fire public’s attention. “It’s guerrilla warfare so you and be largely ignored with fire, because without sponsors the World have to attract attention in bizarre, absurd or inCup or the Olympics would never happen. South ventive and imaginative ways. Wherever there is a Legal proceedings against Africa passed a law in the run-up to the 2010 large gathering of people or highly trafficked enyour company could follow tournament making ambush marketing a crimivironment, marketers are going to see an oppornal offence. The London 2012 Olympic Games tunity to put their brand out there because there has also passed similar legislation banning unis an affinity created when somebody does someofficial sponsors from using the words ‘2012, games, gold, silver, bronze’. thing that’s really strange, bizarre or radical.” He says today’s digital age Those marketers found in violation of the 2006 London Olympic magnifies the interest in a marketing ambush. “Most people carry mobile Games and Paralympics Games Act could face a UK£20,000 phones, and most mobile phones have digital cameras so if you experience fine. The problem for the organisers is that pursuing a something then you are going to share it – there’s immediacy to it.” conviction just creates more publicity for an offending It’s not just sporting events that can fall prey to the ambush marketers. brand and underlines the fact corporate sponsorship can US President Barack Obama’s Democrat primary election rally in 2008 was be a waste of money. The Chartered Institute of Marketambushed by three people directly behind him in the audience wearing ing (CIM) published a report entitled the ‘The event that Abercrombie & Fitch T-shirts. The large logos over Obama’s shoulder disspeaks its name’ in which the CIM criticises the Act as being tracted TV viewers and led to a heap of publicity for the clothing company. “draconian”. The paper says the blanket ban on ambush marClearly product placement works. Product launches too can be hijacked by keting prevents SMEs from gaining any benefit from the presence rivals. In 2007, Sony held a lavish launch party for its Playstation 3 console of the games in the UK. “The trick with most guerrilla marketing in Paris. VIPS, the media and gamers were all in attendance by the capital’s stunts is to explore grey areas and avoid breaking the law,” says Krabel. iconic Eiffel Tower. However, Silicon Valley behemoth Microsoft, makers “Asking for forgiveness versus permission is a good mantra here.” of Playstation 3’s rival the Xbox 360, decided to gatecrash the party by The ethics over whether ambush marketing is considered acsailing an enormous barge boat up the Seine. On the side of the vessel in massive lettering was Xbox 360 ♥ You. “What do you think was the most ceptable will rage on. Marketing is a cutthroat business with photographed object that evening?” says Krabel rhetorically. “The event’s brands all vying for a fickle consumer’s attention, even more so in this tumultuous economic period. Sometimes a company has little choice but to get dirty with some guerrilla warfare, particularly if advertising budgets are tight. The rewards or ROI always have to be balanced against the risks. Bavaria’s CMO must have been feeling pretty smug with all the attention the brand received but it would have been tinged with apprehension after news broke of the arrests – although no charges were made – as well as threats of legal action. Sometimes you need balls of steel to mastermind a stunt like this but it’s still a gamble; you never know for sure what the outcome will be. But the proven effectiveness of ambush marketing doesn’t spell the end of traditional marketing and sponsorship. They will continue to coexist with the guerrilla marketers coming up with bigger and bolder stunts to outdo their competitors and capture the public and the media’s attention. Today’s CMO just needs to keep an open mind to the value of an ambush when opportunity arises. After all, it’s war out there. n