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Five great Olympics ambush marketing campaigns

Thursday, 2 August 2012 | By Oliver Milman

feature-london-ohio-thumbWhile, in Australia, businesses are creating headlines for blaming price increases on the carbon tax, their counterparts in the UK are having to run a different kind of gauntlet.


Using the Olympics to spruik your products, or “ambush marketing” as it has become known, has been zealously policed in the UK, with small businesses attempting to cash in on the Games risking a 20,000 pound ($29,000) fine.


Despite this, there have been several excellent examples on how to tap into the feel-good factor of the Olympics without falling foul of the commercial deals in place.


Australian start-ups can get in on the act too, by creating low-cost, tactical advertising stunts that grab the public’s attention during the Games.


Mike Halligan, founder of Engage Marketing, says: “The best marketing stunts are able to generate exposure far beyond their existing platform. Do something creative and noteworthy enough and people will talk about it.”


“When planning your marketing stunt, think about the extremes. The market is most likely to pick up on something that is extremely funny, extremely creative or extremely confronting.”


So which brands have managed to successfully ambush the Olympics? We’ve picked out five of the best.


Click on the tabs below for details on each of the marketing ambushes.



1. Beats Electronics




Those watching coverage of the swimming in the past few days will probably have seen athletes stride purposefully to their starting positions wearing hefty headphones.


The chances are that these distraction-reducing musical cans were made by Beats Electronics, which has turned ambush marketing into something of an art form.


The US business, founded by rapper Dr Dre and music executive Jimmy Iovine, instructed its staff to “bump” into Olympic athletes and give them a pair of free headphones. Some, given to British athletes, were even embossed with the Union Jack.


This isn’t the first time Beats has tried this approach – in 2008, the US basketball team was seen sporting its products in Beijing. The result? International TV exposure and appreciative Tweets from several well-followed athletes, all without the hefty price tag of a sponsorship.

2. Paddy Power




In terms of in-your-face audacity, it’s hard to top Irish bookmaker Paddy Power, which paid for billboards near Olympic venues and major transport hubs.


Emblazoned on the billboards are the words: “Official sponsor of the largest athletics event in London this year! There you go, we said it.”


In parenthesis underneath, the ad admits that its sponsorship is, in fact, of an egg and spoon race in the town of London in France.


The London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games ordered that the billboards be taken down for breaching sponsorship agreements but Paddy Power dug its heels in, lawyers circled and the campaign was allowed to continue.


Paddy Power wasn’t the only cheeky Irish marketing stunt at the Olympics, with boxer Paddy Barnes holding up a sign with his Twitter handle and the words ‘Open for sponsors’ during the opening ceremony, exposing him to around one billion TV viewers.

3. Nike



Paddy Power wasn’t the only business to sidestep reference to London 2012 by mentioning places of the same name outside the UK.


Nike has created an ad that shows plenty of running, jumping and diving alongside the word ‘London’ but, cleverly, ensured that they filmed in the UK capital’s namesakes in the US, Norway, Jamaica and Nigeria.


The fact that a brand like Nike is prepared to spend big money in airing what is essentially an ambush advert highlights the growing use of this kind of marketing by brands.

4. Oddbins




On a slightly smaller budget, UK bottle shop Oddbins created an Olympics-themed ad which is quite open about the fact the Games can’t be mentioned by non-sponsors.


But the business has gone even further than this, by actively rewarding customers that use the brands of sponsors’ rivals during the Games.


Customers wearing Nike trainers, brandishing an iPhone, a bill from British Gas and a receipt for a Pepsi bought at KFC will receive 30% off their purchases at Oddbins.


Oddbins also has a special window display, which hopefully won’t fall foul of organisers, which have already told a florist in Stoke to take down five rings and a torch made from tissue paper and a butcher in Dorset who arranged some sausages into the Games’ iconic logo.


Oddbins managing director Ayo Akintola told The Daily Telegraph: “We have taken steps to ensure our planned window displays do not flout any of these asinine rules, but we are doing this primarily to highlight the absurdity of the fact that the British people – who are paying for these games – are at the same time being subject to ridiculous rules.”

5. iSelect



It isn’t just overseas businesses that are attempting to ambush the games – iSelect in Australia has got in on the act.


The insurer’s ad takes a slightly different tack, with Mr iSelect, played by actor Jason Geary, complaining “Every four years it’s the same story.


Companies that have nothing to do with the Games jumping on the bandwagon,” all while performing various Olympic sports, such as swimming, weightlifting and rhythm gymnastics, in the office.


The ad, which premiered during Nine’s coverage of the Opening Ceremony, has been applauded for achieving great exposure at a fraction of the cost of official sponsors.