World Cup Special 1: Bombshells, Babes and Ambush Marketing

It’s now over a week since Dutch brewer, Bavaria, won the marketing coup of the World Cup.  It was a classic ambush marketing publicity stunt.  Rule 1: Source attractive looking females.  Rule 2: Dress them in skimpy orange dresses bearing your logo.  Rule 3: Send 36 of them into the stands of a World Cup soccer match.  Rule 4: Hope they are ejected with the attendant publicity.  Tick, tick, tick and tick.  Add some criminal charges and your inexpensive stunt has just gone viral, and global.

And which was the official FIFA beer again?  Oh, that’s right: It was Budweiser.

It’s unclear whether FIFA had a direct role in the criminal charges, later dropped, against the protagonists of this stunt.  If so, it might want to revisit the strategy.  The blunt force threat of incarceration sounds good in theory.  Certainly, it would deter most.  However, in practice, this had an inflammatory effect, creating huge media interest in the story.  That, of course, is exactly what the ambush marketer wants.

In Australia, our ability to attract major events means that we do have a competitive advantage in attracting major sponsors and dealing with ambush marketing sensitively, and appropriately.

In recent years, this experience encompasses the Sydney Olympics 2000, the Rugby World Cup 2004 and the Melbourne Commonwealth Games 2006.  We also host annual international events such as the Australian Tennis Open, and the Grand Prix, amongst others.

There are a variety of legal protections available to sponsors, ranging from specialist legislation enacted to support major events, sections 52 and 53 Trade Practices Act 1974 (Cth), the common law (ie passing off) as well as contractual arrangements entered into between the host and sponsor.

This, of course, does not stop attempts to ambush market.  However, in scenarios similar to the Bavaria beer example, the usual approach is to eject the ‘guerrilla’ and confiscate the offending merchandise.  Criminal sanctions are not on the table.

The concept locking people up for ‘trying to take the mickey’ is unlikely to sit well with the Australian psyche.  We love our cheeky, affectionate humour.  One of the most famous examples of this concerned Smith’s crisps television advertisements, run in Australia during the 2004 Athens Olympics Games.  Leveraging off the “will they or won’t they” speculation as to whether Athens would complete its venues in time for the Games, Smith’s crisps ran an advertisement featuring construction workers in a (clearly incomplete) athletics venue.  The first part focused on the workers eating Smith’s crisps.  There was then the sound of a starter’s gun, only to reveal athletes running down the track, trying to negotiate rubble and other associated hurdles. 

So, how did Smith’s get away with this?  It used a cheeky disclaimer: “Obviously, Smiths is not an official sponsor of the 2004 Athens Olympic Games”.

Another grey area concerns competing sponsorship packages, as exists during the World Cup.  For instance, Qantas is the official FFA airline partner.  Emirates is the official FIFA airline partner.  Yet Emirates may have struggled for oxygen in Australia during this World Cup campaign, notwithstanding its official FIFA status.  The Socceroos have their own branded Qantas plane, John Travolta has provided profile in his role as a Qantas ambassador, and we still call Australia home, along with the Qantas choir.  All of this activity though, is legitimate.  Qantas is entitled to leverage off its FFA sponsorship as much as it can.  For Emirates, of course, the main game may not be Australia this time round, but South Africa.

Whilst it is always fun to play ‘Pick the official sponsor’ it is well worth remembering why such sponsors are so important.  They are key stakeholders, investing in the event and helping to make it happen.  For those of us keen to seek the World Cup Down Under in 2022, demonstrating that we offer world’s best practice in deterring and combating unlawful ambush marketing activity might well prove a factor relevant to our bid success. 

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