Ambush marketing appears to have hit some global sponsors at the Beijing Olympics. While their brands were not seen in stadia or even during the opening ceremony telecast to maintain the purity of the Games, some broadcasts have shown presenters, volunteers and even national teams during the opening ceremony sporting non-sponsor brand logos on their apparel. Some TV presenters even carried the Fuwa doll, the Games’ mascot, emblazoned with the Haier logo. It had viewers confused about who the official sponsors of the Games were.
So, should advertisers shell out big bucks to be on-air and on-ground sponsors of mega sporting events? Well, spectacles such as the Olympics ensure mammoth audiences worldwide and carry brand values associated with the epitome of sportsmanship. Ambushes or not, such sponsorships pay. Besides, ever since PepsiCo India Holdings Pvt. Ltd took the wind out of Coca-Cola India Ltd’s official sponsorship of the 1996 Cricket World Cup with its “Nothing official about it” ads, our event managers have been vigilant against guerrilla warfare.
Ravi Kiran, CEO, Starcom South Asia, says the most common form of ambush marketing is when brand X sponsors an event and takes ground sponsorships and brand Y goes and buys so much media that brand X is virtually blacked out. He would not even term that and ambush, just heavyweight competitive marketing. Ambush is when a brand directly steals the rights of the sponsor, says Kiran.
He cites some examples from Wikipedia: The 1998 Fifa World Cup when Nike Inc. sponsored a number of teams competing in the Cup despite Adidas AG being the official sponsor; the 2000 Sydney Olympics when Qantas Airlines Ltd’s slogan of “The Spirit of Australia” sounded strikingly similar to the Games’ slogan of “Share the Spirit” despite Ansett Australia Pty. Ltd being the official sponsor.
Beyond ambushes, the real problem, say media specialists such as Vikram Sakhuja, CEO, GroupM, South Asia, is that most sponsors here mainly focus on impact and brand salience—monitoring how many times the brand name appears on the backdrop or on the grounds. Consumer engagement with the brand is most vital, but few marketers focus on this goal.
Activation of the property via events and creative campaigns is now key, stress both Kiran and Sakhuja, so that the values of the property rub off on one’s brand. The passion associated with these events is often much higher than that of the brand’s, and should be leveraged. Pepsi did this with its Youngistan campaign while leveraging Indian Premier League player M.S. Dhoni in its ads. Again, Nokia India Pvt. Ltd got actor Shah Rukh Khan and his IPL team together.
Earlier, entire sponsorship budgets were dedicated to buying the rights. These days, a good 40-50% of what’s spent on sponsorship rights could go towards activation or events leveraging the property. Sakhuja’s point: If global advertisers saw fit to sponsor the Beijing Olympics at a hefty sum, the payback would obviously be in the activation opportunities. Proof that even a vanilla on-ground sponsorship is more effective than a vanilla on-air one, say experts.
Sponsorship strategies obviously differ by brand. For a clean-slate brand such as real estate company DLF Ltd, which had not been associated with big events earlier, sponsoring IPL gave it visibility on a pan-India scale. Similarly, it would be a strategic decision for a smaller player such as Havells India Ltd to be associated with IPL or a Kya Aap Paanchvi Paas Se Tez Hain? show hosted by Khan to be regarded as a big player. But does a regular sponsor of big events need to tap into Khan in Paanchvi? asks Sakhuja. After all, he could be tapped as a brand ambassador, independent of any TV show. For sponsors, the activation card is clearly the ace of all cards.
Marion Arathoon is Mint’s advertising editor. Your comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org