Ambush Marketing has Never Been Easier… or More Pointless

sponsorship ambush marketing microtargetingI was recently discussing sponsorship with a brand manager, when she said that she didn’t understand why brands would bother with sponsorship anymore, when they can use microtargeting to get their messages to the same people without sponsorship. She contended that unless a brand was using the sponsorship to secure vending rights, or some other direct sales benefit, that they should just use social media to ambush.

At that point, I was wondering if marketing was really her calling, as she was demonstrating an alarming lack of understanding of how marketing, sponsorship, or you know… people actually work.

New tech, old thinking

Twenty-odd years ago, the internet was exploding, and brands were shouting from the rooftops, “Ooh, yay! Another place to advertise!”

For many brands, this is still the way they look at the web and all of the technology that has emerged, and continues to emerge, from it. Where can we advertise? How do we use this to get our messages in front of people? Just as big an issue, this is the way they look at sponsorship. Where is our logo going to go? How many times can we run our ad on the big screen? How many mentions on the rightsholder’s social?

These brands have missed the fundamental change in how technology has affected in the world, their customers’ relationships to it, and how brand marketing works. And when used in conjunction with modern, fan-focused sponsorship, the power of this new technology skyrockets. They are underusing this amazing marketing platform to such a great degree, they may as well be pounding nails with an iPhone.

Microtargeting is a substitute for mass market advertising, not sponsorship

Following on from above, microtargeting is the ability to use the vast amounts of data that companies have compiled to very finely target people with specific characteristics, activities, or patterns. Facebook and Google are the companies usually referenced, when it comes to microtargeting, but data aggregation means that everyone from Amazon to your bank to your grocery store and more can predict what you’re going to do and what you’ll respond to with almost frightening accuracy.

The thing is that microtargeting is all about outbound messages and calls to action that, if a brand is lucky, might be shared. It’s advertising – really cool, high-tech advertising, which can work – but it’s just advertising.

This is in stark contrast to Disruptive Sponsorship, which is all about adding value to the fan experience, aligning with fans and customers, deepening relationships, and demonstrating shared values. It’s collaborative, meaningful, and seeks to bring the fan further into the experience. The value for brands lies in in that meaning, and its leveragability across channels and markets.

Trying to use microtargeted advertising to replace the power of sponsorship is doomed to failure. It’s replacing a relationship with an ad, passion with an ad, an experience with an ad. It’s like trying to replace a trip to Bora Bora with an ad for a trip to Bora Bora.

Trying to use microtargeted advertising to replace the power of sponsorship is doomed to failure. It’s replacing a relationship with an ad, passion with an ad, an experience with an ad. It’s like trying to replace a trip to Bora Bora with an ad for a trip to Bora Bora.

Brands can and should think about microtargeting, and it may be a very efficient way to get your messages to the right people, but it’s a replacement for less effective forms of advertising, not sponsorship.

For more on Disruptive Sponsorship, download my new white paper, “Disruptive Sponsorship: Like Disruptive Marketing, Only Better”.

People want authenticity

Old school ambush marketing used to be about a brand using clever plays on words or imagery to look like a sponsor, when they weren’t, or sneaking logos into places – games, events – where they weren’t supposed to be.

A big part of this fundamental shift in how marketing works is the expectation of brand authenticity. People want brands that proudly exude who they are and what they’re about. They want brands that take stands, brands that eschew neutrality for courage, and people reward those brands with brand love.

Targeted social media that stops just short of IP infringement may be clever, but it’s transparently inauthentic. Any marketing that involves pretending something that you’re not is not going to impress people, and it will impress them less if you’re pretending to be involved in an event or charity or team that they love.

Ambush marketing can still work… but not like that

One of the mantras I always teach sponsors (and harp on about, interminably), is this:

Don’t sponsor the property, sponsor the fans.

Great ambush marketing, goes like this:

Don’t ambush the property, sponsor the fans.

Disruptive Sponsorship has meaning, and if a brand can find a meaningful, authentic way to use ambush marketing, then as far as I’m concerned, it’s fair game.

“Meaningful” may be about fixing a problem with the fan experience, it may be about fan storytelling, or it may even be about amplifying fan concerns that the sponsors are too cowardly to address. “Authentic” is likely about adding value through genuine, long term involvement in the sport or whatever that’s being ambushed. A few examples…

The upshot

Come on, brands… sponsorship is amazing, people have never been more willing to be engaged with brands that demonstrate shared values, and genuinely put the fan experience first, and there is an endless array of technology that can help you deepen those relationships.

So sure, use microtargeting or other social channels to target your ads, but don’t pretend it’s a substitute for sponsorship, or even ambush marketing. There is no equivalence. It’s not even close.

Need more assistance?

You may also be interested in my white papers,  “Last Generation Sponsorship Redux“. I’ve also got self-paced, online sponsorship training courses for both sponsors and rightsholders. Get the details and links to course outlines and reviews here.

If you need additional assistance with your sponsorship portfolio, I offer sponsorship consulting and strategy sessions, sponsorship training, and sponsorship coaching. I also offer a comprehensive Sponsorship Systems Design service for large, diverse, and decentralised organisations. Please feel free to drop me a line to discuss.

© Kim Skildum-Reid. All rights reserved. To enquire about republishing or distribution, please see the blog and white paper reprints page.

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