How the World Cup Ambushed Itself

It started with a few dozen pretty women in orange mini-dresses with no apparent branding attending the Netherlands’ first round match. “Dutch supporters”, they said. FIFA correctly thought otherwise, then did just about the stupidest thing they could have done.

What FIFA should have done…

  • Get their own megalomania under control.
  • Roll their eyes at the lame attempt to “ambush” the World Cup with a low-impact, first-generation visibility grab.
  • Realise that 36 pretty girls sitting together in orange dresses is not going to harm the sponsor, particularly if they had done a good job of leveraging their massive investment. (It was Budweiser, but how many of you knew that?)
  • Inform the broadcaster not to dwell on them.

If they really wanted to be hard, they could also have informed the women that if they returned in that or a similar get-up, they would not be allowed entry to future games.

What FIFA actually did…

  • Eject the women, hold and question them for four hours.
  • Arrest the ringleaders in contravention of anti-ambush legislation.
  • Make Bavaria Beer and their models a global phenomenon.

Good on you, FIFA! You’ve turned an inconsequential, cosmetic ambush into the biggest sponsorship story of the World Cup.

Actually, FIFA’s reaction was so predictable (as are all the various World Cup organisers and the IOC) that Bavaria was probably banking on FIFA to do all the heavy lifting for them! All the while, Nike is running rampant with viral video that actually is creating marketing value for them and reducing the effectiveness of Adidas’ sponsorship.

Wake up, organisers! It’s time to stop dwelling on the inconsequential and start tackling the big issues in ambush marketing. When the ICC (Cricket’s global ruling body) started going through fans’ coolers and dumping out their Coca-Colas, it made Cricket World Cup sponsor, Pepsi, look like a spoil sport. When organisers of major events make fans turn their T-shirts inside out, it makes both the organisers and the sponsors look petty and mean.

Why do organisers do this? Because at least it looks like they’re doing something. What they’re not doing, however, is stopping the kind of ambush that hurts their sponsors. To do that would require them to admit that they can’t control it, tell their sponsors that great leverage is their best defence, and to work and be flexible with those sponsors to find leverage ideas that will work across the entire event experience.

Do I think this will ever happen? No, because being pedantic, sabre-rattlers is easier.

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