You could pay a “kings ransom” or “an arm and a penis” for the marketing rights to a huge event, such as the Olympics. Or you can spend time thinking and being creative. Something that is being called guerrilla or ambush marketing. It won’t make you popular with the organiser or the main sponsors but it will with your customers.
A brilliant example of this was Dr Dre at the 2012 Olympics. The story is worth reading, but Tom Fishburne has captured it perfectly in the cartoon below. However, before you write this off as a quick stunt that got lucky you need to understand the thinking that went behind it.
Planning an ambush
Like any good ambush it requires a real understanding of the ‘prey’, careful planning, patience and immaculate execution. What has made it possible is that marketing has evolved to where the brands are owned not by Don Draper, but by the consumer. And brands that really get this mindset change will do phenomenally well.
Ambush marketing banned
The London Olympics wanted to protect official sponsors, so they orchestrated an historic ban on ambush marketing. Parliament made ambush marketing illegal with stiff penalties. A bakery was prevented from having buns shaped like the Olympic rings. Olympic cafe had to change its name. Almost 300 enforcement officers were checking firms to ensure they are not staging “ambush marketing” or illegally associating themselves with the Games at the expense of official sponsors such as Adidas, McDonald’s, Coca-Cola and BP.
So how did Beats by Dr. Dre, a headphones brand, beat the ban? They were everywhere in the Olympics. Every time you tuned in, athletes were wearing them. Every time you looked online, people were talking about Beats.
Ambushes require audacious thinking
They took a look at the Olympics from a different angle and realised that many of the athletes needed to focus whilst warming up and wore headphones to drown out the noise. So they created custom national headsets in the colours of all of the competing teams and provided them free.
Ambushes require meticulous planning
They then thought about consumers and built a campaign that wasn’t about the headphones. It was about the consumer expressing themselves through the headphones: “Everybody has something that makes them one-of-a-kind #showyourcolor.” And they built everything around the #showyourcolor theme.
Ambushes require timing
And then like any good ambush, they waited. Athletes started wearing the headphones with very visible colours when warming up, a time when they were still enough for the cameras to be on them. It worked!!
And it spread from athletes to consumers. You couldn’t miss it. Samsung may have been the official sponsor, but Beats owned the better insight and better story. And to add insult to injury for the official sponsors the IOC endorsed the approach “There is a difference between someone using equipment with a logo and someone promoting a brand”.