Ambush Marketing .. back in the day

When we published a recent article, “How to Hack Social Media at Live Events”, we wanted to share some insights and provide a Social Media Checklist for Sponsor brands looking for help to activate more effectively.

However, we got some interesting reactions and feedback. For example, Fiona Green of Winners CRM, highlighted how our Social Media Checklist could be used by competing brands as easily (and even coined the phrase “event-jacking”).

This got us thinking. Ambush marketing at the turn of the decade, used to require an incredible amount of planning, sophistication and luck – often requiring that competing brands enter a physical venue, before being able to commandeer any TV broadcast attention.

Three of our favourite examples from this era include:

Bavaria made an art form out of it at the 2010 World Cup

dutch fans at 2010 world cup


Nicolas Bendtner showing off too much

Nicolas bendtner wearing paddy power underwear


Linford Christie sneaks some Puma branding in

linford christie puma logo in his eye

However, these examples of ambush marketing involved meticulous planning and were extremely hard to pull off and even when successful resulted in fines, bans and legal action aimed at protecting the integrity of a Sponsorship.

Increasing opportunities to Ambush

Recently though, things have changed. The onset of second screening and fans unquenchable appetite for real-time information and sharing, means that broadcast media is no longer the sole avenue for fans trying to get closer to the action.

Fans are now turned on and tuned in, to every available social network as well. In fact, it’s the clever hack first introduced by Chris Messina allowing fans to follow specific events – the ever popular hashtag – that now enables any brand, regardless of size or official affiliation to compete for fan attention.

You see, while competing brands generally don’t use trademarked hashtags and while Twitter itself can even go so far as to create lovely emoticon’s for certain high profile events, hashtags themselves, are by their very nature, available for anyone … or any brand to use.

Listening to Danny Keens, (Head of Sports at Twitter) speaking  at The Web Summit recently, he talked about Twitter as providing the audience for sporting events – an audience that have adopted the hashtag as a means to congregate around and discuss events.

Naturally, where the audience goes – so too must the brands follow and subsequently we’ve seen this shift of focus towards activating on the same digital channels, whether Twitter or Facebook – to create further and deeper alignment with an event and the emotions it drives.

The problem is, irrespective of whether you’ve paid $25 million for official alignment with an event or whether you’ve paid diddly squat, on social channels you can still compete for attention. Twitter provides an audience of people looking for real-time and engaging content around specific topics … its’ modus operandi is not to protect any specific brand or limit a conversation.

Ambush Marketing at the RWC 2015

The Rugby World Cup is a case in point. Heineken the official Sponsor invested heavily to create engaging content with an arsenal of ex-stars including Jonah Lomu and John Smits. Impressive eh!

 past rugby players

With resources invested to create engaging video content that showed a playful side to Jonah Lomu in particular:

However, Guinness was free to utilise a similar strategy, employing the uplifting stories of both Ashwin WIllemse and Gareth Thomas to great effect! It was effective social content that really created successful engagement levels:



The differentiating factor between both brands, however, wasn’t necessarily the video elements but seems to have been Guinness’s ability to create relevant, quality content in real-time and at the height of the fans emotional experience.

Below are some of the key examples, that drove strong engagement and struck a chord with fans, with no doubt as to the subject matter being the the results of the Rugby World Cup!

Ireland’s bruising encounter against France


As well as Japan’s brave victory over South Africa



So, who was the winner between Heineken and Guinness?

Well according to this article, while Heineken paid a reported £20 million to be an official Sponsor, they also had to invest in a content strategy that eventually received 9,261 mentions for its #itsyourcall campaign and overall spread to 5.7 million.

Guinness in contrast, utilised a clever and engaging strategy to spread its content to 4 million followers, investing far less resources and creating engagement almost on a par.

But what does this mean for Sponsorship?

It’s clear from this example, that ambush marketing on social channels is generating results. The level of success that can be generated for competing brands by aligning their messaging with events and investing in digital channels is phenomenal when done right.

Ultimately, this is a threat to Sponsorship – if brands can create the same buzz around events, without investing in official Sponsorship, this will reduce demand to be an official Sponsor at an event and erode value.  

In this vein, its necessary for rights holders to react at this stage and create opportunities to help Sponsors stand out, particularly across digital and social channels.

How can Rights Holders help?

The official event or venue apps, are one area in particular where advances can be made to protect against ambush marketing. These are the tools that target fans during the live stadium experience, providing useful functionality to enhance their experience – and therefore a new outlet for attracting the engaged audience. And as Twitter knows, wherever the audience congregates, there is activation potential close behind.

Building on lessons learned from RBS 6 Nations, the official Rugby World Cup 2015 App looked to integrate novel sponsorship activation opportunities. We reviewed this in a previous blog post and reflected on it as a market leading offering.

However, despite a number of initiatives the official RWC 2015 Sponsors still struggled to create real impact directly through the app and carry it across social channels. The reason for this is that the Mastercard Man of the Match game or DHL Rugby Trivia Quiz aren’t highly engaging or interesting for the casual user.

          Mastercard man of the match                                         DHL-rugby-trivia-quiz

          Mastercard Man of The Match                                   DHL Rugby Trivia Quiz

In short, these type of initiatives rarely generated huge engagement because the content doesn’t hit fans needs. Brands such as Guinness understand that fans want:

  • Authentic / genuine content, unique to each event
  • Consuming content in real-time while fan excitement is at a high

While Sponsors will continue to invest resources to create content, it is the rights holders that need to safeguard their properties, empowering official Sponsors to activate more effectively.

Our series on How Mobile Apps are set to revolutionize the fan experience, goes into detail on some of the market leading approaches to date – however, in-app digital sponsorship solutions are still a growth opportunity with innovative rights holders looking for more high impact solutions.

Watch this space as in-app digital sponsorship fills the void between the live stadium experience and a captive audience engaging on social channels! 


About Crowdsight:

Crowdsight is focused on in-app digital sponsorship, helping Sponsors activate using fan images taken live from sporting events. Our aim is to be able to show fans at home the excitement of the live fan experience, and provide Sponsors unparalleled access to fans at the height of their experience in real-time.