Olympic Ambush Analysis – Part 7: The Cheeky, the Sneaky, and the Brilliant

While the real ambush marketing news has been about the ridiculous lengths the Games organisers have gone through to thwart ambush marketers, and the negative impact of those activities, strategic ambush has gone on unabated.

That butcher who put five sausage rings in his front window learned a big lesson about the cost of national pride, as did that florist who was threatened with a huge fine. But strategic ambushers – the ones sponsors and rightholders really need to worry about – they got the job done without breaking a single rule.

There were cheeky ambushers, sneaky ambushers, and brilliant ambushers. We can learn from all of them.

The Cheeky

Topping the category of “cheeky” ambush is Paddy Power, who broke every IP law set up to stop ambushers, but did it with a different London – “ahem, London France” – LOCOG threatened, and with balls of steel, Paddy Power stood up to them and LOCOG backed down.

(I’ve had so many nastygrams from Olympic organisers over the years, I’m thinking of making a collage.)


Did they get a strategic benefit from this? If it were a more conservative brand, I would put it in the category of low-value, ego-driven ambush. But given that being brash and cheeky is a major part of the marketing platform for Paddy Power, it is entirely in keeping with their apparent brand strategy. And, of course, LOCOG amplified the result for them by making a huge deal of it, just like FIFA made Bavaria Beer the ambush marketing star of the last World Cup by arresting a few pretty girls in orange dresses.

And then there’s Oddbins. This chain of high street bottle shops got fed up with the restrictions placed on everyday businesses who are just trying to be a part of the country’s Olympic celebrations. They ran some cheeky ads, not dissimilar to Paddy Power. But their real blow as an ambusher was that during the Games they instituted a 30% discount for any patrons wearing Nike shoes, carrying an RBS Mastercard, an iPhone, or Vauxhall (GM) car keys, bringing in a bill for British Gas, or a receipt for Pepsi purchased at KFC. Why those brands? They compete with Olympic sponsors. Bazinga.

For a 30% discount on wine, I’d change shoes. Just saying.


The Sneaky

I have to hand it to Dr Dre. His headphones may or may not be the best, but Beats by Dr Dre headphones are bloody cool. So cool, I really want a pair myself! (Of course, I may not be cool enough for them…)

So when one of their reps just happens to bump into a star athlete – after an extended period of stalking, I’m sure – and gives them a pair, there is every chance they’ll end up on Twitter or Instagram or as an integral part of pre-performance, yet on-camera, preparations.

Dre Beats

Cost-benefit analysis? Astronomical.


The Brilliant

And then there are the brilliant, with Nike outshining them all once again. With this campaign, Nike has reminded us that we are all athletes – something that has been the backbone of their brand since the beginning. And Nike has reminded our industry that ambush marketing isn’t about trickery. It’s about being more relevant and meaningful to the fans than the sponsor.

I don’t know about you, but this ad (and the rest of their brilliant new Find Your Greatness videos) fills me with more warmth and admiration than almost anything I’ve seen from sponsors in the past three weeks.

Honestly, all the “line in the sand” crap we get from Olympic organisers every two years is getting old. There is no line in the sand. They can’t stop ambush marketing with laws. They can’t stop it by putting unrealistic terms and conditions on the back of your thousand dollar tickets. They can’t stop it by sicking the brand police on local shopkeepers, and subsequently making global news. How they stop ambush is to encourage – even teach – their sponsors to be a responsive, meaningful, respectful, and generous part of the fan experience. Like Nike.



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