What is Ambush Marketing?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ambush marketing is a marketing technique which involves riding on the coattails of a major event without paying sponsorship fees, essentially using the event as a free promotion. One classic example of ambush marketing occurred at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, when the Nike company covered the city in ads, benefiting from the focus on the city for the Olympics without having to pay the often hefty sponsorship fees. Ambush marketing is a source of frustration for promoters of sports events, as well as companies which do pay sponsorship fees.

Ambush marketing is often used at sporting events.
Ambush marketing is often used at sporting events.

This type of marketing most commonly occurs in association with major sports events, although potentially other events could be used as a venue for ambush marketing as well. At a typical sports event, several companies pay very large fees for exclusive marketing rights, and these fees can sometimes number in the billions for events like the Olympics. In return for the fees, the company gets exclusive advertising space, and it is supposed to get protection from competitors. Rival soda companies, for example, cannot both pay sponsorship fees for the same event.

A variety of techniques are used in ambush marketing. The most basic is simply buying up billboard space around an event, assuring that people who attend the event will see the marketing. This practice is entirely legal, although event organizers and sponsors may find it annoying. Ambush marketers may also be more subtle, doing things like passing out t-shirts, hats, and other promotional gear to people attending the event so that their branding is seen in the stadium.

The issue of ambush marketing highlights the growing reliance on sponsorship fees among many major sports organizations. Some people have suggested that the massive sponsorship fees compromise such events; for example, at the Olympics, athletes are often not allowed to bring their own food and drink into the Olympic Village, so that if they are photographed or videoed, they will not undermine the sponsor of the event. In other instances, a sports team or organization may be forced to make certain concessions to meet the demands of a sponsor, raising questions about their integrity.

The next time you attend or happen to be in the neighborhood of a major sports event, you can probably spot some ambush marketing. In the stadium itself, large banners typically proclaim the major sponsors, and they may also play advertisements or pass out promotional materials. Look to the fringes of the stadium for materials from competitors.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


where it is mostly used and why?


@ Comparables- Ambush marketing by definition is not limited to big name marketing at sporting events. Ambush marketing is any type of guerrilla marketing which "ambushes" the consumer by placing marketing messages where they would least be expected.

An ambush marketing technique can be tame and mild like placing small stickers marketing a product on bananas in a grocery store. Ambush marketing can also be bold like the case of Burger king putting "I [heart] BK!" t-shirts on Ronald McDonald statues, or Audi staging a car heist of its A3 hatchback when it was released at the New York Auto Show. Ambush marketing can even border being destructive, as was the case when IBM painted "PEACE, LOVE, LINUX" on San Francisco streets to promote the company's switch to Linux systems. In this case, the city hit IBM with a corporate graffiti fine, but it was cheaper and more effective than paying for advertising space on television or the internet.


What are some other ambush marketing examples? Ambush marketing has to be more than weaseling your way into sporting events.


It would seem that such a reliance of professional sports on advertisements would highlight the symbiotic relationship of capitalism and sports. America is a land of widespread team-loyalty and interest in multiple home teams of multiple competitive sports, and is also a leading capitalistic nation. The common denominator is competition.

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