Pranav P Deolekar
1st Year, PGDBM + MMM
Indira Institute of Management Studies
Phone : 09890672584
E-mail :

Recently, Ambush marketing has received a lot of publicity in the Indian and international marketing arena. Here, we make an attempt to explain what ambush marketing is, and why it is causing such uproar.

Simply put, Ambush marketing occurs when a company signs on to sponsor an event as official sponsor, and a rival hijacks the mind space through backdoor means. It is a concept that describes the actions of companies who seek to associate themselves with a sponsored event without paying the organizers. The ambush consists of giving the impression to consumers that the ambusher is somehow affiliated with the event. Ambush marketing can provide some, if not most, of the benefits of a legitimate, paid-for sponsorship at relatively little cost.

For example, In 1996, soft drinks giant Coke paid a fortune for the right to call itself the official sponsor of the World Cup. Rival Pepsi promptly launched a massive advertising blitz, based on the catch-line: Nothing Official About It. The Pepsi campaign captured the public imagination - and Coke, the official sponsor, lost out.

The above incident highlights the subtlety & potential of ambush marketing hijacking the consumers' mind.


The myriad contexts in which ambush marketing can arise include tangential actions ranging from the placement of competitive advertising on television broadcasts of the event to the underwriting of promotions to send to participants of the event. Some examples of ambush marketing include:

  • Placement of competitive advertising on Media in an advantageous position- first break on TV or back cover of the event magazine.
  • Organize contests to send consumers to the event.
  • Sponsoring contestants (Teams or individual participants)
  • Placement of hoarding or booths at strategic locations during the event.
  • Promotional items using the mascots/ Logos of the events.
  • Commercial time on TV shows or specials during or before the event.

Why sponsorships

It would be pertinent to review why exactly companies do sponsorships as a part of their marketing programs because this will help explain the implications of ambush marketing.

  • Audience awareness: When people are relaxing they can imbibe information faster. This helps the brand message penetrate effectively into the consumer psyche.
  • Image: Sponsorship leads to the brand's image enhancement by virtue of association with a high profile event.
  • Segment targeting: Sponsorship enables the marketers to target their consumers in an efficient & relevant manner. So if Mercedes Benz wants to reach CEOs, they can do so more efficiently by sponsoring a golf tournament than by advertising on TV.
  • Other options: Sometimes companies have no other avenue for reaching the masses due to governmental restrictions on advertising etc. (for example many tobacco & alcohol companies cannot directly advertise).
  • Public Relations: Finally, sponsorships give an opportunity to get high visibility & Free PR.

Companies & event organizers understand the importance of sponsorships & that is why commercial sponsorship is big business. Not surprisingly, high-visibility events attract aggressive competitors intent on creating their own association with the event.

Ethical issues

Is it ethical for a company to ambush an event? Why do brands with excellent reputations get into this & are they justified?

The roots of Ambush Marketing can be found in several phenomena typical of modern sponsorships:

  • Escalating (almost prohibitive) prices.
  • Distressing imagery of sports & scandals (can lead to negative image rub off by being associated with the event)
  • Increasing marketing competition (Many other avenues of competition take away resources).
  • Clutter in sponsorship (Too many brand associated with event no benefit for anyone).

Given the above situation, those companies who want to buy, or can afford to buy, do buy; others must consider their marketing alternatives. In explaining the practice of Ambush Marketing, and in noting its virtual necessity in modern competitive business practice, and indeed its inevitability -- there may actually be no issue of ethics or morality.

The point to understand is that, in buying a sponsorship, a company buys only that specific event. In sponsoring, the company does not purchase the rights to all avenues leading to the public's awareness of a property; and neither does it buy the rights to the entire consumer mind space in which the sponsorship is one resident. (e.g. in the thematic space of cricket World Cup is one resident).

The mind space here refers to the various associations (ideas, images, and events) that occur in the consumers' minds when they think of the sponsored space. This thematic space is not "created" by anyone, & hence no one "owns" it.

Non-sponsors want their product or service to be a part of the thematic space without sponsoring the event. So long as they do nothing to claim that they are indeed a sponsor, they are free to pursue other event-related activities (e.g., television advertising on the event broadcasts, onsite events, and other such activities), to underscore their company's support of, and dedication to, the thematic space which the event occupies.

The contrary notion, put forward by event organizers, that non-sponsors have a moral or ethical obligation to market themselves totally away from the thematic space of a sponsored property, is absurd because sponsors have bought a specific property; they have not bought a thematic space.

Given the above then, the real marketing game begins once a sponsorship has been undertaken. Ambush marketing can be "parasitic" only to those who have not sufficiently covered their sponsorships with adequate, anti-competitive protection. A sponsor's competitor does not have an ethical obligation to make sure that their sponsorship is successful.


Ambush Marketing should be understood as a marketing strategy occupying the consumer mind space for an event. What Ambush Marketing is not, is some underhanded attempt to take advantage of sponsored properties without paying the associated fees. The marketing decision around sponsorships is really a question of whether or not the sponsorship, as currently offered, is really commercially viable.

Successful ambush strategies feed on ill-conceived sponsorships and inept sponsors; in that regard, Ambush Marketing is the natural result of healthy competition and has the long-range effect of making sponsored properties more valuable, not less, in that successful ambushes, over time, help to weed out inferior sponsorship propositions.

Pranav P Deolekar
1st Year, PGDBM + MMM
Indira Institute of Management Studies
Phone : 09890672584
E-mail :

Source : E-mail September 14, 2004

Important Note :
Site Best Viewed in Internet
Explorer in 1024x768 pixels
Browser text size: Medium