Viewers encounter a vast amount of brands before, during and after broadcasted football matches. Very often, many of them do not see the difference between an actual sponsor and a brand that tries to associate itself with the event through an ambush marketing activity.
I observed such an activity while watching a broadcasted UEFA Europa League match on ORF, the Austrian national public service broadcaster. Their guest commentator (apologies for not catching his name) had an attention-grabbing logo on his jacket, Superfund. I first mistook it for a fashion brand; even though an arguably unfashionable fashion-brand logo (see picture). The brand, Superfund, used to be involved in Austrian football and apparently still wants to be associated with it. Personally, as a viewer, I find such obvious ambush marketing stints annoying, because they do not create any value to the show for me. They simply distract from what is important, namely, the discussion about football.
Just a few days later, I came across a very similar marketing stint on RSI, a Swiss public TV broadcaster, where Julian Walker, a Swiss professional ice hockey player, was wearing a shirt with a PKZ logo, a Swiss fashion retailer, on it. In this case, I did not perceive the PKZ logo as inappropriate, because it actually is related to clothing wear, and the shirt is most likely from PKZ. Therefore, a completely legitimate and okay practice in my opinion.
Gerd Nufer mentions Wittneben and Soldner (2006) in his 2013 book, Ambush Marketing in Sports, who claim that “The lack of a company’s performance in support of a sports event, yet seeking to participate in its marketing potential is not unethical per se.” I understand the point that it is not unethical. Nonetheless, viewers might not care about the ethical perspective, but simply about the intrusion of a brand they do not know or care about. Sam Fullerton (2010) contradicts my statement by quoting K. Roberts (2006), who explains that only 20 percents of respondents of his study state that they are “annoyed by companies trying to associate themselves with [a sports event] without being official sponsors.” However, in regard to brands fishing for reach, Mitch Joel (2013) underlines my point in Ctrl Alt Delete, stating that ‘The intrusion of brands is simply that: an intrusion’.
While listening to the commentators on ORF, I asked myself: What if Superfund is a sponsor of this ORF football show, and what if they are not? If Superfund is a sponsor, it might even be legitimate to allow them to appear in the show. Nevertheless, as a marketer, I would want to find a more appropriate outlet, most probably a dedicated commercial slot. That way it is clearly declared as advertising. On the other hand, if Superfund does not contribute financially to the show, ORF should ban such an activity.
Rowe and Hutchins (2014: 15) mention a story by Brinsley Dresden in The Guardian, who explains that in 2012 the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority upheld a complaint that footballers Wayne Rooney and Jack Wilshere had tweeted messages referring to Nike’s “Make It Count” campaign that failed to identify them as a marketing communication. Exactly my thought in the previous paragraph: Declare the promotional message as such! In a similar context, I remember watching a 2013 AFC Champions League match that featured Thai football club Buriram United, where the staff had logos of their team sponsors on their jackets that allegedly infringed sponsorship rights of sponsors of the event. Because of that, the AFC made them cover these logos with black tape. A rather drastic measure, but projecting the situation onto the Superfund-at-ORF case, I would simply advise ORF not to allow the logo to appear in such a subliminal manner either.
Nufer (2013) says, “As long as the rights of organizers and official sponsors are not infringed upon, there are no objections to agenda setting, fun ambushing (and maybe even philanthropic ambushing).” That is a legitimate point. What needs to be considered in addition to that is how consumers, or in our case viewers, will perceive the ambush. Fun ambushing, like the Bavaria girls at the 2010 FIFA World Cup, can raise lots of sympathy among football fans, even though the action might be illegal. Boring-but-legal ambush marketing stints, on the other hand, might just hurt a brand.