In the past week, my inbox and feeds have been overflowing with bulletins about new anti-ambush marketing legislation being passed by the UK, South Africa, New Zealand, Victoria (Australia). Canada did it a couple of years ago, so have countless more host countries and cities. These laws are created – at least in theory – to protect their upcoming major events. In reality, they are doing nothing more than posturing.
IP infringement is illegal and has been for longer than ambush marketing has existed. All anti-ambush legislation does is cast the net wider for IP infringement – adding a few dozen more words and phases that ambushers can’t use. Like, they can’t use “Games”, “2012”, the word “rings”, “London”, etc in combination. Not to put too fine a point on it, but big whoop.
Ambush marketing is not about deception. Okay, that’s not quite true. Strategic ambush marketing – the kind that works – is not about deception. Old-school, ego-driven ambush marketing is about deception, but all they really get is the opportunity to do a few high fives around the office, get no strategic result, and do no damage to the real sponsors.
Ambush marketing is also legal. It has always been legal and will continue to happen and flourish as long as events and sponsors rely on laws to protect them. Why? Because smart ambushers do not need anything that an event or law controls in order to achieve a powerful, multifaceted, strategic result.
Here’s the deal: Event organisers control the event itself, the promotion of the event, event assets, and the IP belonging to the event. They control some of the content, although if we’re talking about a number of teams and athletes, they have control over their own assets and IP and media also control some of the content. The upshot is, the event doesn’t really control very much.
On the other hand, we have the event experience, which is controlled by the people who make up an event’s target market. Their experience includes everything from the first moment of anticipation to the last faded memory and everything in between. It is the atmosphere, pride, patriotism, the dramas and triumphs, the opportunities and inconveniences. It’s newspapers and television and blogs and Facebook and Twitter. It’s the stories, the rumours, and the scandals. It’s the outrageous once-in-a-lifetime adventures with friends and the little moments that touch our hearts. It’s the feeling of I-was-there and the memories of exactly where you were when something amazing happened. “Do you believe in miracles?!” is a moment I will cherish to my grave.
Events don’t own any of that. We do – the people, the fans. The residents of host cities and the tourists do. You don’t have to attend an event to have an event experience. Event experiences happen in pubs and parks and living rooms and subway stations. They happen on computers and mobile phones and traffic jams.
The event experience isn’t owned by anyone, it is created by individuals. Making that experience better – amplifying the good stuff and lessening the bad stuff – is where strategic ambush lives and it doesn’t require any access to IP or the event at all for it to work.
So, how do we stop it? Sponsors need to forget all about the posturing politicians and all of the event dignitaries and their proclamations of “lines in the sand” and look after themselves. Sponsors need to leverage every event fully and creatively and with absolute focus on adding value to the total fan experience, not just “owning” the event. Strategy will save the day, and if the IOC, FIFA, the IRB, the ICC, and the rest of the quadrennial anagrams really want to protect their sponsors, they will spend less time drawing up legal briefs and more time educating their sponsors.
How to stop ambush marketing? Amazing, best practice leverage. Job done.