2014 World Cup: Opportunistic Marketing May Prove More Effective than Ambush Strategies

The FIFA World Cup, known almost exclusively as the World Cup, is one of the most highly competitive athletic competitions in the world. Held every four years since 1930, the much anticipated soccer tournament is a battle of talent, heart, and longevity. While rivalries on the pitch are heated, it’s competition for exposure outside the arena that captures the interest of many corporations and businesses.

Official FIFA partners like Adidas, Coca-Cola, and Visa play a major role in the direct marketing of the World Cup. They spend millions of dollars on digital, print, and social advertisements, with reportedly high returns on investment.

And while Coca-Cola did a phenomenal job creating powerful marketing messages at the 2010 World Cup, so did Pepsi – despite not being a sponsor.

How could Pepsi develop effective marketing for an event they weren’t even sponsoring? The answer for some is “ambush marketing,” while others call it opportunistic. You can answer that question for yourself, but the idea behind Pepsi’s marketing efforts surrounding the 2010 World Cup raises two interesting questions: (1) What is ambush marketing and what are the guidelines surrounding it? (2) How can your business avoid ambush marketing, while still taking advantage of major events like the World Cup?

Understanding Ambush Marketing

Ambush marketing is a difficult term to define. It generally refers to a product or brand’s attempt to associate itself with a major event without buying the official rights to do so. Brands using ambush marketing strategies are essentially leaches latching onto the juiciest thing they can find, with no permission to do so. This tactic is typically divided into three different areas:

  1.     Ambush by Association – This is the most blatant form of ambush marketing and refers to brands that seek to directly associate themselves with the event without authorization. This is highly illegal and rarely attempted anymore.
  2.      Ambush by Intrusion – This is an ambush method by which a brand tries to gain exposure at the actual event, by placing people or advertisements in the arena. The best example is the Bavaria beer stunt, which took place at the 2010 World Cup.
  3.     Opportunistic Ambush/Marketing – The third division is largely a grey area. It’s referred to by some as opportunistic ambush marketing and by others as simply opportunistic marketing. This is when a brand subtly associates itself with something the event stands for, while not explicitly making mention of it.

FIFA has chosen to directly address ambush marketing, anticipating that 2014’s event could take 2010’s incidents to new heights. Their definition for ambush marketing is “prohibited marketing activities which try to take advantage of the huge interest and high profile of an event by creating a commercial association and/or seeking promotional exposure without the authorisation of the event organiser.”

The Fine Line Between Opportunistic Marketing and Ambush Marketing

Marketing is often about treading a fine line, and that’s especially true when it comes to ambush marketing. Blatant ambush marketing is illegal, but opportunistic marketing is a smart business practice. When it comes to this year’s World Cup, businesses should ask themselves how they can take advantage of the events popularity without crossing the line. Recently, Oreo has done an excellent job of walking this line.


When a power outage at the 2013 Super Bowl caused a 34 minute delay, the marketing experts at Oreo quickly got to work with a witty, opportunistic advertisement. The advertisement, shared on Twitter, was a simple picture of an Oreo that read “You Can Still Dunk In The Dark.” No explicit mention to the Super Bowl, an event it was not an official sponsor of, but a very timely reference that evoked effective responses.

It’s that side of the line every brand should attempt to walk on in the coming months. Don’t lean over the line, but hug it closely.

How Can My Brand Benefit?

Whether you’re a local bar thousands of miles from the action, or a retail shop down the street from the stadium, your brand can benefit from the World Cup – in a legal way.

First, ask yourself, “Do my customers resonate with the World Cup?” If the answer is yes, start asking questions about how your audience consumes the World Cup and how to connect with that. Flirt with the imagery of the event without breaking FIFA’s legal guidelines. The electronics, apparel, and restaurant industries have the best potential for opportunistic marketing this year.

Mobile viewership for the 2014 World Cup is expected to reach record highs. During the 2010 World Cup, mobile data bandwidth usage grew by 24% during the matches, while web traffic increased by 35%. That’s a huge opportunity for content marketing, online advertising, and social media interaction. Electronics companies can find ways to capitalize on mobile integration, apparel companies on athletic brands, and the restaurant industry on showing live events.

A Launching Pad for Future Marketing

There is plenty of internet chatter about how businesses and brands can create effective marketing strategies revolving around this year’s World Cup. Do your brand a favor and look into how your company can use this summer’s event as a marketing opportunity. But don’t stop there. The World Cup could be a launching pad for future marketing strategies. Follow the rules, but learn how to use the external environment for increased exposure.

When referring to subtle, opportunistic marketing, I like the way Jerry Welsh says it, “’As long as a non-sponsoring company avoids claiming to be a sponsor when it isn’t, then there is nothing wrong, unethical or sinister about marketing and programming in the same thematic space as that of a sponsored property.” Learn to take advantage of the thematic space around you!

With the 2014 World Cup approaching, how does your brand plan to avoid ambush strategies while taking full advantage of opportunistic marketing?

The following two tabs change content below.

Schuyler Richardson

Schuyler was born and raised in Marietta, GA and attended college at the University of South Carolina, where he received a degree in Marketing and Management. He has always enjoyed writing and is now happy to do it professionally. Some of Schuyler’s previous job titles include landscaper, retail sales associate, and marketing intern in a Division I college athletic department. Outside of work, Schuyler has a wide range of hobbies and interests. He is a self-taught guitar player, novice woodworker, and avid sports fan. You can often find him watching his favorite teams: the Atlanta Braves and South Carolina Gamecocks. Additionally, Schuyler lives for the fall, because it means two things: good weather and college football.

Latest posts by Schuyler Richardson (see all)

Related Posts:

Share This