Counter Attacking Ambush Marketing at the World Cup

Brands will continue to take advantage of an event without being officially associated with it. But are the official sponsors doing enough to stand out from the rest?
by Anil Kadiyala   |   Thursday, July 10, 2014

#FootyBiz - column on international football business, soccer marketing and finance.

Prior to start of the 2014 World Cup, a lot of emphasis was on how this mega event was being exploited by ambush marketers to promote their own brands without being officially associated with the event organizers, i.e., FIFA.

This concept is nothing new with brands engaging in a direct battle to reach out to their customers through large-scale events. The tug of war is particularly fierce in the sports apparel industry where Adidas is competing with Nike and Puma to acquire maximum exposure through this event.

Adidas can boast of being the official partner of FIFA and has been providing footballs for World Cup since 1970. But in other areas like social media and marketing campaigns, Nike seems to be running hand in hand with Adidas. Apparently each of these 3 brands are official kit suppliers for almost same number of teams taking part in tournament. Nike edges out its rivals in the fact that they endorse 6 of the top 10 most marketable footballers, twice as many as Adidas.

Similarly official partners of FIFA i.e. Coca-cola, Budweiser, Hyundai, Sony are facing stiff competition from their direct rivals Pepsi, Carlsberg, Volkswagen, Samsung respectively. The unofficial brands are gaining brand exposure on the same levels as the official partners of FIFA.

In the midst of this marketing overdose, customers are unable to differentiate the official sponsors and partners of FIFA from ambush marketers. Legal restrictions might negate the effect of ambush marketers to an extent but the truth is it is difficult to eradicate ambush marketing.

This begs the question: How will official sponsors stand out from the rest and, in the process, generate returns for their investment in partnering with FIFA?

Perhaps the answer lies in not just being more creative but making optimum use of resources. Resources to which only the official sponsors have access to for partnering with FIFA.

According to FIFA’s head of marketing Thierry Weil, as many as 100,000 tickets allocated for sponsors of the World Cup were not picked up by them.

What if official sponsors had utilized a fraction of those tickets and innovatively used them in their marketing campaigns as free giveaways to any lucky winners across the globe and provided free travel packages to those limited customers?

Yes, this has been implemented numerous times in the past and even a brand not associated with the event could do that, but being an official partner, one would have access to priority tickets and few other intriguing activities that could be a once in a lifetime experience for your customer.

Another key aspect is that any mega sports event needs an identity that would last forever. Fans remember 1986 FIFA World Cup for Maradona’s ‘Hand of God’ goal, similarly the current edition might be remembered for Suarez’s bite. Be it good or bad, these are everlasting memories.

Off the pitch, is there scope for creating an everlasting memory? Or an identity that people look down the years and recollect that event instantly?

Could a mascot be the answer? If promoted proactively mascot will be a standout identity for any global sports event. Demand for a product is not generated by advertising. Convincing your customer that the product is more of a necessity than a luxury does it. In the case of football fans, it’s about establishing an emotional connection that does the trick.

Imagine a scenario where every football-watching household across the globe would find it necessary to have a replica of the mascot as a memory of the event. Leaving aside the revenue it would generate, it would be a great marketing tool for official sponsors to bank on. But the reality is majority of the fans fail to recollect the 2010 FIFA world cup mascot, which is a proof of lack of promotion.

Optimum use of FIFA’s assets is the key for brands that are officially associated with the world cup to stand out from ambush marketers and generate better returns. 


Robert Gordon Univ.
Club Domestic:
Club Foreign:
Liverpool FC
A sports enthusiast and a soccer freak who previously worked in various sectors outside sports but eventually had to respond to the love of his life and at present working as a sports marketing professional.