Mumbai: Last year’s soccer World Cup had Adidas as a sponsor but the brand most associated with it was rival Nike, according to a report on the eve of the tournament by market research firm Nielsen.
Nike had, according to the report, ambushed its way into the discourse by producing a popular soccer-themed ad that spread virally online, overshadowing Adidas.
Ambush marketing can work when executed well. But what about the plethora of ads using cricket as a prop in their commercials? They are hoping to get a pop from the high interest around the cricket World Cup and the Indian Premier League that follows.
“The belief that to leverage an event, all conversation needs to be cast around cricket, is a simplistic and incorrect assumption,” said Santosh Desai, managing director and chief executive officer, Future Brands Ltd.
Brands adopt the strategy in the belief that they are being clever by rubbing shoulders with a mega property, but such associations are often ineffective and undifferentiated.
“Brands should avoid such fleeting opportunistic associations unless they can really own a property,” he said. “But having said that, genuine cheekiness or smartness (in a campaign) will always be rewarded.”
Kiran Khalap, co-founder, Chlorophyll Brand and Communications Consultancy Pvt. Ltd, points to the VodafoneZooZoos as a good example. The company is not an official sponsor of the World Cup but is a broadcast sponsor.
“To my mind there’s just two ways to look at it. Either the usage is right or it’s wrong,” he said. Brands that use the property as a media opportunity are more likely to benefit than those which use it as an event opportunity.
The Vodafone campaign has nothing to do with cricket but uses it to get mileage. “That is a better strategy than to attach your brand to the event by producing ads that scream cricket; that’s just a waste of money.”
There are “hundreds and hundreds” of ads riding on the hyperbole associated with the World Cup, according to the spokesperson of Copyright Integrity International (CII), an intellectual property rights (IPR) firm headquartered in Bangalore that has been hired by the International Cricket Council to protect sponsors’ interests.
It registered more than 150 instances of copyright infringement and ambush marketing by a spectrum of brands even before the World Cup started on 19 February. Action has only been taken against ads that unlawfully commercialised intellectual property of the ICC or the World Cup, the spokesperson said.
Cricket features in ads by companies making sanitary ware, bathroom fittings, hearing aids, furniture and deodorants. Educational institutes and travel agencies have also used cricket in their commercials.
Imagery, colour, graphics, phrases and even words associated with the World Cup have been used to gain from “borrowed interest”, riding on the back of important or topical events.
Some marketers believe that consumers tend to be more receptive to communication that features popular or topical themes.
In a commercial for Parryware Roca Pvt. Ltd, makers of sanitary ware and bathroom fittings, an umpire raises his hand as if to declare a player out. He instead makes the universal sign for the rest room.
An ad for JK Tyres has a truck packed with fans sporting the Indian team jersey. The ad reads “JK Truck/Bus radials: wheels to the nation.” Sundaram Mutual Fund, Johnson and Johnson’s contact lens brand Acuvue and Beltone True Wireless hearing aids all have ads with a cricket theme.
“The ICC does not have a proprietary interest in the colour blue, cricket or even the imagery associated with cricket. What the ICC is most concerned about is unlicensed advertising that suggests or implies a commercial association with the ICC Cricket World Cup or uses participating players in violation of the terms as defined by ICC,” said Nandan Kamath, counsel for Copyright Integrity International. “This is especially true in cases where the common man on the street would be misled to believe that the advertiser is officially associated with the event.”
Special anti-ambush rules have been put in place at some locations holding major sporting events. They include South Africa (Fifa World Cup 2010), New Zealand (Rugby World Cup 2012), Vancouver (Winter Olympics 2010) and England (Summer Olympics 2012). In South Africa, the use of football imagery and even some key words were restricted, although this didn’t stop Nike from edging itself into the picture.
“The ICC could have asked the host nations, namely India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, to have such legislation in place to protect the sponsors but took a considered view not to pursue this route,” said Kamath. “You have to acknowledge that all the buzz is good for the World Cup. At the end of the day, the ICC has established a fine balance between freedom of speech and sponsor interests and I think they’ve got it right.”