Ambush marketing – it’s time to play fair

12th December 2022

Large sporting events, such as the FIFA World Cup, year on year attract some of the largest crowds recorded. This creates the ideal opportunity to promote your business and brand due to the goodwill associated with these events.

Those who choose to promote their businesses at these events pay large fees for such a privilege and as a result, these fees are used by sporting organisers to successfully run these events. Unfortunately, ‘ambush marketing’ tactics are being used by unofficial sponsors to benefit from the marketing opportunities of these events without paying a penny.

What is ambush marketing?

Ambush marketing arises when a company seeks to or successfully ‘ambushes’ an event as a marketing opportunity. The techniques used makes the company appear to be an official sponsor of an event, but in reality the company will have no formal association with them.

Ambush marketing includes:

  • Taking advantage of a player and sponsoring them to wear your product when another brand is the official clothing sponsor
  • Using billboards in the vicinity of an arena, giving the impression the company is associated with the event
  • Trademarking phrases which appear to associate the company with the brand e.g., “[Company Name] London 2022”
  • Phrases such as “sponsor”, or other word which implies a formal association

What is the law?

While it is illegal in some jurisdictions, England and Wales are yet to establish legislation to govern this topic. Despite the attention it gained at the London 2012 Olympic Games, there is currently no law in place which directly address the topic of ambush marketing.

However, there are existing laws in place which protect the infringement of intellectual property rights which can be relied upon. The issue with relying on these laws is that often ambush marketing is subtle, making it hard to evidence that associations were implied.

For example, an event organiser may seek to rely on trademark protections if a company is marketing in a manner which leads the public to believe the ambusher is connected to the event in an official way to an event.

What practical steps can we take?

Firstly, as an event organiser or paying sponsor, it is essential to ensure you have protected your intellectual property correctly. Therefore, if any infringement arises, you can take action.

Secondly, the organisers of the event need to ensure they remain vigilant and proactive towards these tactics. The organisers can take control over the marketing and advertising which occurs in the vicinity. For example, requesting the stadia is ‘cleaned’ of any branding.