Big name companies ambush World Cup

June 20, 2010 12:00 am

, HONG KONG, Jun 20 – As millions flow into FIFA\’s coffers from official World Cup sponsors, big name brands such as Nike have proven that an altogether better bet is to save the cash and simply "ambush" the event.

A week into the competition and Nike, who are not an official FIFA partner, are hammering arch-rivals and official sponsors Adidas 4-1 for hits on video-sharing site YouTube for their respective World Cup TV adverts.

Nike scored an early opener with its "Write the Future" campaign (, featuring Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo — then Adidas counter-attacked with a Star Wars-themed World Cup advert featuring David Beckham (

But Nike continues to dominate early possession, with more than 16 million viewers by Sunday on YouTube for their campaign, which launched mid-May, compared to almost 3.5 million for Adidas\’s late strike in early June.

And, in a study of online World Cup-related mentions in the lead up to the tournament by research firm The Nielsen Company, Nike had twice as many English language messages as Adidas, makers of the controversial Jabulani ball.

Nielsen analysed blogs, message boards and social networking sites and found that Nike was more frequently linked to the tournament than any of the official partners and sponsors.

"If you\’re a company with a large global footprint, it\’s natural to want to associate yourself with a major worldwide event like the World Cup," Pete Blackshaw, Nielsen\’s digital strategy boss, said.

"This study shows that compelling, savvy marketing can establish this sort of connection in the eyes of consumers without having to write that expensive sponsorship cheque."

Nike wasn\’t the only brand to successfully "ambush" a FIFA sponsor or partner, the report adds.

Carlsberg had almost four times the level of mentions in English-language messages around the tournament than Budweiser, the official beer sponsor.

But the referee blew the whistle last week on one alleged "ambush" campaign.

FIFA said on Wednesday it had filed charges against organisers of a stunt that put 36 women in short orange dresses in Johannesburg\’s Soccer City stadium, apparently to promote a Dutch beer.

The women were detained during the Netherlands-Denmark match on Monday and taken to a FIFA office where they say they were questioned for several hours.

FIFA said the women were "used by a large Dutch brewery as an instrument for an ambush marketing campaign," although the dresses had only a small tag with the beer\’s brand on them.

Budweiser is the only beer company allowed to advertise within the stadiums — where FIFA can take action.

And, with Nike bosses estimating that half the world\’s population will watch the World Cup, it\’s a key competition to be associated with for many big and not-so-big brands.

Nestle-owned Kit Kat has a "cross your fingers" ad which has upset official sponsor Mars, MTV has a bizarre chainsaw-wielding hamster ad and Scotland may not have qualified, but there is even a TV ad for Scots soft drink Irn-Bru.

All could be classified as "ambush" marketing campaigns, says professor Simon Chadwick, an expert in sports marketing at Coventry University.

In marketing jargon, an "ambush" is where a rival company to an official sponsor connects itself to the competition without having paid a sponsorship fee. In most countries, this is not breaking any laws.

Around 43.5 billion dollars was spent by advertisers globally last year on what they thought were exclusive rights to events, so "ambush" campaigns can be irksome, says Chadwick.

"There is considerable debate as to whether or not an official event sponsorship is the most effective way to increase sales," he told AFP.

"What is happening appears to be fundamentally about creativity versus convention."


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