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You’re at home, watching your favourite sports team, when you begin to notice something: Every time the camera zooms in on the coach for his reaction to a play, there’s always the same group of people wearing the same t-shirts sitting directly behind the bench. Then it hits you—they’re promoting a brand -- one that hasn't officially sponsored the game. It refers to a situation in which a company or product seeks to ride on the publicity value of a major event without having contributed to the financing of the event through sponsorship.

What Is Ambush Marketing?

Ambush marketing is when a company that hasn’t paid to be a sponsor of an event, gets free publicity by unofficially communicating their brand in places where spectators, cameras or reporters will see them.

By purchasing sponsorship, a sponsor seeks to attract the attention that an event generates to its own product. In a typical sponsorship arrangement, a sponsor purchases the sponsorship property rights and does further promotion to draw attention to itself. In “ambush marketing,” another company, often a competitor, intrudes, thereby deflecting attention to itself and away from the sponsor. The term was initially coined to describe the activities of a company that associated itself with an event without paying the requisite fee to the event owner. McKelvey describes it as “a company’s intentional effort to weaken or ambush its competitor’s official sponsorship. It does this by engaging in promotions or advertising that trade off the event or property’s goodwill and reputation, and that seek to confuse the buying public as to which company really holds official sponsorship rights.”

An ambush marketer can associate with a major event without large-scale investment in securing rights and thereby fulfil brand awareness and image objectives at low cost benefits usually available only to the official sponsor. It also generates goodwill, which is a consumer’s natural reaction to support for an activity of which he or she approves. At the very least, it creates consumer confusion, thereby denying the legitimate sponsor clear recognition for its sponsorship role. The net effect is that the official sponsor may derive considerably less benefit from its involvement.

Originally, many cases of ambush marketing arose because opportunistic competitors exploited the lack of agreement internally between different levels of major sporting organizations and externally with broadcasters and licensees. Indeed, some early instances, once seen as ambushing, are now recognized as legitimate sponsorship opportunities, such as contributions to a team squad in soccer and rugby. More recently, major event owners have become gamekeepers by preventing potential ambush opportunities through contractual agreements with various interested parties, thereby enabling exclusive sponsorship packages and first-option rights.

Most forms of ambush marketing capitalize on the prominence of a major event through marketing campaigns that associate an advertiser with it, but without actually having paid sponsorship fees to the event's organizer to identify themselves as an "official" partner or sponsor. An advertiser may engage in ambush marketing in "indirect" means—where the advertiser alludes to the imagery and themes of an event without any references to specific trademarks, or in "direct" and "predatory" means—where the advertiser makes statements in their marketing that mislead consumers into believing they are officially associated with the event (including the fraudulent use of official names and trademarks), or performs marketing activities in and around a venue to dilute the presence of "official" sponsors.
Ambush marketing is most common in sport; the practice has been a growing concern to the organizers of major sporting events such as FIFA (FIFA World Cup), the International Olympic Committee, and the National Football League, as certain forms of ambush marketing can devalue the exclusive sponsorship rights that they had sold to other companies, dilute the exposure of official sponsors, and in some cases, can involve the infringement of an organizer's trademarks.
In an effort to control ambush marketing, organizers have, in recent years, required the host cities of their major events to enact special laws restricting the use of an event's intellectual property, restrictions on non-sponsors creating unauthorized "associations" with an event by referring to certain words and concepts, and the ability to ensure that only authorized advertisers may have marketing presence within a specified radius of the site. Such regulations have attracted controversy for limiting freedom of speech, and for preventing companies from factually promoting themselves in the context of an event.
Intent and techniques of Ambush Marketing
Typically, ambush marketing is used to "ride off" the prominence and draw of a major event, aligning promotional activities and publicity around it, without having to pay fees to the event's organizer to be designated as an "official" sponsor in a certain product category. Ambush marketing techniques can be classified into two categories: "direct" forms of ambush marketing involve advertisers promoting themselves as being a part of or associated with an event, diluting the exposure of official sponsors and their respective campaigns especially if they are the product of the non-sponsor's competitors, while indirect forms of ambush marketing use imagery relating to an event in advertising to evoke a mental connection with it, without specifically mentioning it.
"Predatory" forms of direct ambush marketing involve fraudulent claims by a non-sponsor that pass themselves off as being an "official" sponsor, usually by making direct references to trademarks relating to an event, but without having any official authorization from the event's organizers to identify itself as an official sponsor or use its trademarks. An advertiser may attempt to perform a publicity stunt inside the venue itself to attract attention to their brand, such as having attendees wear attire that is associated with the company. An official sponsor can also be involved in direct ambush marketing if they perform more extensive promotional activities at an event than they were originally authorized, such as distributing branded merchandise when they were only granted advertising on signage especially if these activities compete with those of another sponsor authorized to do so.
A company may also perform direct ambush marketing by riding coattails—factually marketing their role in connection to an event or its participants. For example, a company which produces sporting equipment may advertise that they are the official supplier for a specific athlete or team. Similarly, a non-sponsor may choose to solely sponsor the event's telecast by a broadcaster, but not the event itself.[6] The factual acknowledgment of a non-sponsor's involvement with the participants in an event by, for example, a television host or commentator, can also be considered an incidental form of coattail marketing, as it provides additional unpaid publicity to the brand.
Most forms of indirect ambush marketing involve a non-sponsor making use of imagery, themes, and values similar to what the event and campaigns from official sponsors express, either positively or negatively, and without making specific references to the event itself or its trademarks. In essence, the advertiser markets itself using content that evokes a mental association with the event, and as a result, appeals to those who are aware of the event. Advertisers may use a well-known generic nickname for the event that is not a trademark, such as "the big game".
Similarly, a non-sponsor may use "distractive" techniques to divert consumers' attention away from the actual event and its official sponsors using similarly indirect means; for example, a non-sponsor may saturate the area at or around its venue (including street vendors, billboards, and public transport) with a competing marketing presence. Such "saturation marketing" may either be indirectly related to the event, or be incidental and make no references at all. In some cases, a company may sponsor or create a similar "parallel property", designed to compete directly with a major property by evoking similar thematics.
Types of Ambush Marketing

Predatory Ambushing

Predatory ambushing refers to marketing that attacks a competitor's sponsorship of an event, athlete, or organization, while simultaneously confusing consumers over which company is the official sponsor. The campaign employed by AMEX against VISA during the 1994 winter games is an example of predatory ambushing. Official sponsor VISA was outraged when AMEX aired a commercial with the tagline, "So if you're traveling to Norway, you'll need a passport, but you don't need a Visa."
Personnel Ambush
Having a spokesperson or other individual closely associated with a business, product or service at an event without paying a sponsorship fee is another example of ambush marketing. The celebrity doesn’t overtly represent a company or product that competes with the event or an event sponsor. The company sending the celebrity may simply want to promote their product or service by having the public recognize the spokesperson. Buying tickets for a spokesperson in the front row of an event or other televised sightline is one tactic companies use to execute this type of ambush.
Timeline Ambush
If an event has a small timeline, such as the two weeks of the U.S. Open Golf Championships, an advertiser might increase its marketing during that timeline. A golf company might increase its advertising shortly before and during the tournament, hoping golf consumers connect its product with the hype created by magazine issues, TV specials and other increased promotion of the sport during that time. A beer company might increase its advertising during college basketball’s March Madness or college football bowl season, using ads that show sports fans watching basketball or football games on TV, but without mentioning the NCAA playoffs or BCS bowl games.

On-Site Ambush

This type of ambush marketing occurs when a business attempts to gets its name, logo or products on the grounds of an event without paying to be there. After the Association of Volleyball Professionals signed a contract with a sport drink, two the sport’s largest stars signed with a competing sports drink. During their matches, the two stars drank the competitor’s drink during televised matches and place logoed towels on the backs of their chairs during changeovers.

Property or Trademark Infringement

Property or trademark infringement intentionally misuses or violates the trademark of an advertiser for the purpose of diluting the marketing space or confusing consumers. The organizers of the London Olympic Games employed hundreds of officers devoted to policing the games' brand throughout the city. Local businesses could be fined for including words like "gold," "bronze," or "summer" in their advertising, as the London Olympics believed this was an infringement on the trademark of its brand.


Self-ambushing is the practice of breaching the limits of a company's sponsorship parameters in a way that infringes on another sponsor's marketing or advertising. For example, in 2008 the official sponsor of the UEFA European Championships, Carlsberg, gave out headbands and t-shirts with the Carlsberg logo at the tournament. These forms of advertising were not included in its sponsorship agreement, and violated the sponsorship of another company that was permitted to hand out these items.
Common Ambush Strategies

Ambushing refers to a continuum of situations, with varying extents of legal and ethical infringement. Several common ambush strategies are:

a. Sponsor media coverage of an event.

The so-called “ambusher” sponsors certain media coverage of an event and gains access to the media audience, usually much larger than the on-site audience; this exploits a perfectly legitimate sponsorship opportunity. The Fuji versus Kodak case in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics is perhaps the most celebrated legal ambush. While Fuji was a worldwide sponsor of the Olympics, its competitor, Kodak, became “sponsor” of ABC television’s broadcasts of the games and the “official film” supplier to the U.S. track team.

b. Sponsor a subcategory within an event and exploit the investment aggressively.

The ambusher contracts to sponsor some lesser category within the overall event at an obviously reduced investment cost and proceeds to exploit this association with large-scale promotions. During the 1988 Olympic Games, in a rerun of the 1984 conflict, Kodak was the official worldwide sponsor, but Fuji mounted a counter campaign, deciding that it’s “investment would be better spent as a sponsor of the U.S. swimming team.” Its strategy enabled Fuji to associate with the Olympics at reduced cost. The global practice of such an ambush strategy requires considerable organizational and financial investment.

c. Make a sponsorship-related contribution to the “Players’ Pool.”

Sports athletes, increasingly aware of their powerful bargaining position, also seek to sells specific sponsorship rights. In the case of team sports, corporations can sponsor the team or squad by contributing to the “Players’ Pool”; such revenues are distributed to team or squad members. An ambusher capitalizes on property rights, which players and teams are free to sell. The sponsor contributes to the players’ pool and uses the platform provided to achieve its promotion objectives. While this practice was at one time viewed as sabotage of the event sponsor, it is now regarded as legitimate, particularly as the ground rules on the payment of athletes have changed.

d. Plan advertising that coincides with the sponsored event.

The ambusher can implement advertising that is timed to coincide with the sponsor’s event. The legality and ethical basis of this approach depends on specific strategy, which may include —

Themed advertising. One themed advertising approach benefits the celebrity rather than the Olympic Federation. During the 1992 Winter Olympic Games, Wendy’s restaurant chain contracted with Olympic gold medal figure skater Kristi Yamaguchi to feature in its advertising, while McDonald’s was official sponsor of the U.S. team’s involvement in the Olympic Games. In another approach, the ambusher gives the impression of association yet makes no payment to either the governing federation, the Players’ Pool, or individual celebrities. It implies association with the event by using televised footage and images (e.g., sneakers, footballs, rackets, and so on) related to the sport.

Traditional advertising. An ambusher may respond head on to a sponsor’s activity with traditional advertising and promotion. Both companies employ legitimate but different approaches to compete for overall “share of voice”; such activity is not construed as unethical. If, however, the competitor seeks to purchase advertising media time in the slots around television replays of the event that a competitor is sponsoring, the move might be considered an ambush. Some ambushers used this practice successfully in the past, but it is less prevalent now because broadcasters in many countries will either offer the sponsor a first option to purchase available slots or refuse to allow directly competing advertising in slots around televised events.

e. Develop imaginative ambush strategies.

Many ambushers have created highly imaginative strategies to associate with particular events. For example, Seagram’s “developed a program to ‘Send the Families’ of the U.S. Olympic athletes to the 1988 Seoul Olympics, which involved no payment to the Olympic Committee.” Foster’s campaign during the 1991 Rugby World Cup in Britain was similarly creative; while Stein lager, a brewing company, was an official worldwide sponsor of the event, its competitor, Foster’s, ran an ad campaign around the theme “Swing Low, Sweet Carry-out” in the United Kingdom. (“Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” is the anthem of the English Rugby team that was a finalist in that tournament.)

Sporting goods companies’ marketing campaign shave aggressively competitive strategies for major events. Reebok was an official uniform supplier to the U.S. team at the Barcelona Olympic Games; the agreement required that Reebok apparel be worn at the opening and medal awards ceremonies. However, Nike managed to conclude a deal for the uniform rights for the U.S. track and field team, so this team wore Nike competition apparel during the Games.

Some Cases of ambush marketing

In the mid-1990s, Nike became known for several major ambush marketing schemes: at the 1996 Summer Olympics, Nike (whose presence competed with official sponsor Reebok) set up a prominent pop-up store near the athletes' village, selling merchandise with slogans parodying those of the Olympics and attacking its values. Response to the campaign by athletes was negative: IOC and USOC marketing directors Michael Payne and John Krimsky also got into a verbal dispute with Howard Slusher, a subordinate of Nike co-founder Phil Knight, whilst discussing its actions. After the IOC threatened to have athletes denounce the company, pull accreditation for its employees, and ban the display of its logos on equipment, Nike agreed to retract most of its negative material, and eventually served as the official sportswear supplier of the 2000 Summer Olympics. Nike also performed saturation ambushes at UEFA Euro 1996 and the 1998 FIFA World Cup, by buying advertising space in the vicinity of the host venues in order to prevent the official sponsors (Umbro and Adidas respectively) from being able to promote themselves. Nike's actions influenced the eventual adoption of "safe zone" rules, restricting advertising presences to those of official sponsors within a certain radius of an event's venue.

During the 1996 Olympics, Rebook paid a reported $50 million to be an official sponsor of the games. Rival shoe maker Nike, which opted out of advertising at the event, decided to ambush the games instead. It purchased almost every billboard available in Atlanta, produced witty television commercials that featured top Olympic athletes, and distributed thousands of free flags that featured Nike’s famous “swoosh” logo to spectators attending the Games. Adding insult to injury, the company built a “Nike Centre” pavilion just outside the official Olympic Village, which provided spectators and athletes a view of the action.

Such tactics have become such a problem that the IOC and other event producers are deploying defensive and offensive strategies akin those deployed by the top hockey teams competing at the Sochi Olympics. Each has a regiment of lawyers lying in wait, ready to attack any brand that jeopardizes the essential advertising revenue paid by exclusive sponsors.

For example, FIFA, organizers of the World Cup, took legal action against Bavaria, a Dutch brewer, because of its disruptive marketing tactics during a FIFA event in which Budweiser was the official sponsor. The courageous and innovative brewer hired a few dozen women to sit in the stands wearing orange miniskirts, the official colour of the corporate brand, in order to generate buzz around its product.


Meenaghan (1998a) defines parasitic or ambush marketing as marketing communication that “involves a company seeking to associate with an event without making payment to the event owner and often in direct conflict with a competitor who is a legitimate and paying sponsor” (Kent and Campbell, 2007). Sandier and Shani (1989) defines ambush marketing as marketing practice by which “companies try to create the perception that they are associated with an event without actually being a sponsor”. This practice as well reduces the effectiveness of the sponsor’s communications while undermining the quality and value of the sponsorship opportunity from the event owner (Meenaghan, 1998a).

Cornwell and Maignan (1998) state that, although the practice of ambush marketing was considered suspicious or even illegitimate, it has involved to an acceptable marketing strategy over the years. However, the ethical and legal issues of ambush marketing have been discussed all through, and the debate never stops. O’Sullivan and Murphy (1998) indicate four ethical perspectives including utilitarianism (which emphasizes on the consequences), duty-based ethics (which emphasizes on the intentions of the decision maker), stakeholder analysis (which examines the impact of a decision upon a wide range of individuals or groups), and virtue ethics (which places the focus on the person or organization and not on the decision) can provide a framework for the debate on the ethics of ambush marketing.

However, in practice, it would be unfair to accuse a company according to the consequences of coincidental ambushing if there is no real intention, while on the other hand whether there is real intention of ambushing cannot usually be perceived. Townley, Harrington and Couchman (1998) highlight the dangers posed by ambush marketing and try to develop a strategy to prevent the impact of ambush marketing by controlling the intellectual property, the event environment, and the event partners. However, they as well admit the limitation the laws of many jurisdictions in protecting sponsors’ benefits.

Besides legal and ethical issues related to ambush marketing, the majority of previous ambush marketing research in the marketing literature has as well focused on the effectiveness of ambush marketing and consumer awareness of ambush marketing (Kent and Campbell, 2007). McDaniel and Kinney (1998) design an experimental manipulation to find out that ambushing can be effective and that consumers' recall of actual sponsors is fleeting, as well as that ambushers can benefit from purchasing media, which are already perceived and accepted by industries. It is as well found that consumers usually have little knowledge or interest in which company is the official sponsor and which is ambushers (Shani and Sandier, 1998; Lyberger and McCarthy, 2001).

Apart from the Olympics, ambush marketing can be found in other big media mega-events. In the United States many cases of such practices can be found at American Football games. Even the sponsors of the NFL (American National Football League), the biggest football league in the country, are not free from ambushers trying to play the role of official sponsors of the event. Fortunato and Melzer (2008) tackled the problem of allowing the sponsorship rights of one event to be sold to companies working in the same branch and being in direct competition with each other. The same problem, also regarding the NFL, was described by McKelvey (2006), who analysed the situation of Coca-Cola and Pepsi. Both brands, which are direct competitors in the market of non-alcoholic beverages, had been fighting for the rights of being connected to the games for many years, either by being sponsors of the entire league, or individual teams. Cobbs (2011), on the other hand, described cases of MasterCard and AT&T filing lawsuits against FIFA and NASCAR, respectively, for non-performance of the agreement regarding the protection of their sponsorship rights.

Subject literature also includes work that shows the use of ambush marketing in the context of the entire branch. Sponsorship of one discipline (cricket) by several companies from one product category of the alcoholic beverages brand, taking into consideration different forms of sponsorship, has been described by Jones (2010).

Other work can also be distinguished in this field, work by authors, who identified cases of ambush marketing during many sports events and on this basis tried to undergo a typology of this practice. The earliest classification of ambush marketing practices was formulated by Meenagham in 1994. The ambush marketing strategies created and classified by this author are considered the original ones and served for a long time as the basis for research on the studied phenomenon.

The first attempts at ambush marketing in sport were most commonly made through ways of associative marketing, also called direct ambush marketing. The specific fight between the organizers and companies that wanted to make use of sports events organization gave birth to new, more sophisticated and elaborate ambush marketing methods and new, more creative marketing strategies of companies competing for benefits coming from associating them with a given event, which took the form of invasive marketing. Due to a number of ambush marketing classifications, the main trends can be found in Table 4.

Another highlighted research area refers to analysis of the influence of ambush marketing on the consumer. Most of the work raises the issue of sponsor recognizability, the awareness of its brand, and the effectiveness of sponsorship as opposed to ambush marketing. The authors, who present the results of their studies on consumers regarding the recognizability of sponsors and non-sponsors of a given sport event (Bettina Cornwell, Maignan, & Irwin, 1997; Grohs, Wagner, & Vsetecka, 2004; Hoek, 1997; Johar, Pham, & Wakefield, 2006; McDaniel & Kinney, 1998; McKelvey, Sandler, & Snyder, 2012; Meenaghan, 1998a; Nufer, 2009; Nufer & Bühler, 2010; Pitt et al., 2010; Sandler & Shani, 1989), point out that the consumers have always had trouble identifying industries which were official sponsors of a given event, and distinguishing between them and sponsors that use ambush marketing. The research results coming from different countries almost unanimously indicate that ambush marketing campaigns are incredibly efficient. Some results indicate, however, that this effectiveness, and thus weaker sponsor recognition, is affected by several key factors. These factors are most of all the connection between the sponsor and the sport event and the interest level, as well as the engagement of the receiver in the given sport event (Grohs et al., 2004; Portlock & Rose, 2009). The position of the sponsor and the ambusher in the media is also important. A vast majority of the published works concentrates on big sports events, such as the Olympics or world championship in different sport disciplines. Furthermore, some researchers have tried to evaluate the influence of communication through sponsorship on the consumers‟ purchasing decisions. Kinney and McDaniel (1996) compared the consumers‟ purchasing reaction in response to advertisements of official sponsors and ambushers. They concluded that there is no noticeable difference between the purchasing decision in response to advertisements by the sponsor or the ambusher. Séguin et al. (2005), in turn, proved that the influence of ambush marketing practices on purchasing decisions differs depending on the country of origin of the respondents. While the host of the 2000 Olympics was Australia, they had studied the consumers from Canada, USA, and France. The results showed that the citizens of France had the lowest purchasing intention to buy products of the sponsors of the Olympics (16%) compared to non-sponsors. By comparison, 31% of the respondents from Canada would have bought products of the sponsors, and 48% of the respondents would not have bought products of the ambusher. O‟Reilly et al. (2008) described the actions of the ambushers as lowering the purchasing intentions regarding official sponsors. Macintosh et al. (2012), on the other hand, pointed out that the purchasing intention is also influenced by the interest level in the sport event. This was also the area of interest of McDaniel and Kinney (1998), who described the correlation of the purchasing intention in response to sponsorship in relation with the sex of a respondent.

The authors did not notice any significant behavioral differences between men and women in response to advertisements by the sponsors and the ambushers.

Another research aspect in the area of consumer research refers to the perception of ambush marketing and the attitude of the respondents towards such practices (Lyberger & McCarthy, 2001; McKelvey et al., 2012; Meenaghan, 1998a; O'Reilly et al., 2008; Portlock & Rose, 2009; Séguin et al., 2005; Shani & Sandler, 1998a). The authors emphasize that consumers do not know the nature and meaning of the discussed phenomenon and are not aware which brands are official sponsors of the event, and which are only disguised as partners. Furthermore, most of the respondents have a negative opinion on ambush marketing, condemning such practices and deeming them unethical.

The purpose for starting research of this topic was often not only evaluation of the effectiveness of industries‟ sponsorship actions, but also a discussion on the effectiveness of the Olympics, and other big sports events, organizers‟ efforts towards minimizing the actions of ambush marketers (Robinson & Bauman, 2008; Shani & Sandler, 1998a). The authors also try to identify the ambush marketing practices, and in the long run find means of counteracting them and prevent them from happening (Kelly, Cornwell, Coote, & McAlister, 2012; Pitt et al., 2010; Séguin et al., 2005; Taylor, 2012).

Ambush marketing is also considered a great threat to the recognizability of the sponsors and the effectiveness of their advertising campaigns (Meenaghan, 1998b; O'Reilly et al., 2008; Pham & Johar, 2001). O‟Reilly and Horning (2013) pointed out, that ambush marketing is an important element to be considered during the process of decision making for sponsoring a sport event and planning a communication strategy with respondents. Ambush marketing is treated similarly, but regarding the Olympics, by Giannoulakis et al. (2008). The authors think that actions of the ambushers are at present, and will be in the future, one of the key challenges for the organizers of the Olympics, who require effective counteracting strategies against this phenomenon.

Another field which appears in the consumer research regarding ambush marketing is the perception of such practices from the point of view of the sponsor company (Farrelly, Quester, & Greyser, 2005). Based on a research survey conducted on managers of sponsor companies, the authors identified behavioral trends of the ambushers. As it turns out, through time companies using ambush marketing become consistently more creative in their attempts to connect their brand to a sport event. Furthermore, large ambush corporations employ the best attorneys in order for their campaigns to use loopholes in the legal system. Some companies simply exploit sport and their association to it for years in their advertising campaigns, building their image of companies that support sports events or individual athletes. This way they build a long-term strategy of marketing communication based on ambush marketing. The authors underlined the need for close and long-term cooperation between sponsors and organizers of sports events in order to effectively block ambush marketing tactics, as such actions are incredibly harmful for both sides – the sponsor and the organizer. From the sponsor‟s point of view they decrease the effectiveness of sponsorship, and from the point of view of the sport event organizer, ambush marketing lowers the value of sponsorship contracts and deters potential partners.

The articles in this category are connected in the way of perceiving ambush marketing and defining it as, on the one hand, a side effect of sports sponsorship, and on the other, as a purposeful action parallel to sponsorship. As studies show, companies using ambush marketing practices are efficient rivals for the title of official sponsors of a sport event in the mind of the consumer.


Ambush marketing thus raises both legal and ethical issues. If we regard the practice as unethical, against what benchmarks can we make such a judgment? First, we need to clarify certain issues.

Ambush marketing is not a discrete activity; it involves a broad range of activities, bounded by legal and illegal and ethical and unethical parameters. Perceptions of ambush marketing change over time; many former perceived transgressions are now seen as legitimate sponsorship opportunities. Truly global sporting events are bound to expose conflicting perspectives, even among western societies, as to what is legal and ethical. This is particularly true in areas such as exclusivity, monopoly, regulation of markets, and restraint on trade; the entitlements of brand builders; and claims by shareholders and stakeholders.

Frequently, an alleged ambusher is a legitimate purchaser of rights and does nothing illegal, provided it does not use trademarks and symbols illegally. Major event owners seek to control or minimize potential conflict for their sponsors by striking agreements with broadcasting partners and other sports organizations, thereby offering exclusivity and first-option contracts. The challenge that major event owners such as the IOC face, for instance, is to secure such rights vertically and prevent potential ambushers from exploiting otherwise legitimate sponsorship opportunities.

In some instances, it may not be possible to secure exclusive agreements. For example, there are several competing beer brands sponsoring individual teams in the English Premier Football League sponsored by Carling Lager. Indeed, even where agreements exist, difficulties can arise. The recent case of the Dallas Cowboys and the NFL in the U.S. market is an example. While the NFL, as event owner, has a sponsorship agreement with Coca-Cola, the owner of the Dallas Cowboys has signed a pouring-rights deal with Pepsi for the Texas stadium, resulting in litigation between NFL Properties and the Dallas Cowboys.

When an ambusher that has not bought specific rights gives the impression that it is involved in an event, the ethics question arises. In such instances, the ambusher deliberately associates with and exploits an event’s spirit without breaching the letter of the law. Themed advertising, with such images as snow and downhill skiing, suggests involvement with the Winter Olympics. In such instances, the ambusher may claim that it has a moral duty to use such opportunities to pursue corporate business objectives, and, in doing so, it relies on universal principles regarding fair business practices and its duty to stockholders to justify its actions. It may claim that, without ambushing, it is otherwise denied the right to participate in an important promotional opportunity due to the inability to meet the cost of official sponsorship and further that their duty to stockholders demands that ambushing activity be undertaken. Such arguments can be traced back to Kantian moral theory, which relies on universal standards of goodness and the motivation to fulfil one’s duties and obligations. He “maintained that moral action must be motivated by obligation alone” and “that all persons must act not only in accordance with obligation, but for the sake of obligation.”

Other moral theorists would disagree. For instance, utilitarian theories come down in favor of the greatest good for the greatest number. Laczniak and Murphy state, “In an organizational context, utilitarianism basically states that a decision concerning corporate conduct is proper if and only if that decision produces the greatest good for the greatest number of individuals. Good is usually defined as net benefits that accrue to the parties affected by choice.” Thus, from an ethical perspective, the ambusher that gives the impression of involvement without payment is merely serving its own narrow self-interest and, in doing so, engages in behavior that is harmful to the greater good of sport.

A rights view of fair business practice might suggest that the sale of one’s property should result in the economic benefit going to the owner or seller. Similarly, the sponsor as buyer should reap the rewards of its investment and be protected in so doing. The moral title to rights for sale is also a matter for discussion. The IOC could argue that it has invested in building a major global brand with specific associations vested in both its marks and emblems. It could further claim to have created a reservoir of goodwill and that it is entitled to brand protection for its symbols. Stakeholders (e.g., fans) might also ask if a community does not have rights of access and information and if the Olympic spirit is not ultimately an inalienable part of our collective heritage.

These are complex ethical issues in an area with diametrically contrasting perspectives and varying rights claimed by shareholders and stakeholders. Such considerations are valuable for judging issues on a case-by-case basis.

It is important for sporting events to have specific laws on Ambush Marketing in order to attract sponsors for major events such as the Olympics, Commonwealth Games, F1 Racing or The Football World Cup. Specific legislation on Ambush Marketing will ensure that the interests of sponsors are protected.

However, the biggest problem of Ambush Marketing is that most countries do not have specific laws on Ambush Marketing leaving the scope of existing laws rather unclear.

In Australia, the organizing committee for the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games successfully lobbied for the passing of the Sydney 2000 Games (Indicia and Images) Protection Act 1999. The Act sets a good precedent to other countries and was a right move to reduce the incidence of ambushing at the 2000 Olympic Games.

Although there is no specific legal protection against Ambush Marketing in Malaysia, event organizers and sponsors could try to fight Ambush Marketing through the use of other legal principles.

When Ambush Marketers refer to competitors’ trademarks, he will be liable for Trade Mark infringement. In such cases, the likelihood of confusion is obvious and protection is straightforward. However, if Ambush Marketers refer to the event itself, possibly to the name of the event organizer then protection under trade mark law may be weaker.

In order to seek protection under Trade Mark laws, the first thing an event organizer must show is distinctiveness in relation to trade marks issued by event organizations. This may be a problem as more often than not, the trade mark will be descriptive of the event and therefore not distinctive. For example, despite the monopoly of FIFA over what event, the relevant public would see in the registered trade mark only reference to the event and not to the source.

Secondly, an event organizer must establish likelihood of confusion amongst the public. As a result of the specialty principle, likelihood of confusion does not only require similarity between the trade mark and the contested sign, but similarity between the goods or services at stake. Protection will only be granted when there is full identity between the distinctive trade mark on the one hand and the goods and services on the other hand. Unless it is registered in all classes, as it is now often the case, these products or services for which the trade mark of the event organizer are registered, are unlikely to be similar to those of the Ambush Marketer. As a result, a court may find that there is no likelihood of confusion between an Ambush Marketing campaign and the trademark of the event organizer.

Ambush marketing is now, for some companies, a strategic alternative to formal association through the purchase of legitimate sponsorship rights. Research evidence indicates that this ambush activity may damage sponsors' events and even the interests of sports governing bodies and individual sports people. Legal issues clearly arise, but the body of case law is as yet slight. Discussion often focuses on property rights, but these too can be problematic if a major sports event of popular cultural significance is concerned. Four ethical perspectives utilitarianism, duty-based ethics, stakeholder analysis, and virtue ethics-can provide a framework for the debate on the ethics of ambush marketing. A range of possible actions to create more ethical commercial sponsorship are identified and briefly evaluated. In particular an international code of conduct for event sponsorship seems to be an idea whose time has come.

The extra-legal methods of fighting ambush marketing include strategies defensive in nature, which focus on pointing out the non-ethical, inappropriate, or illegal aspects of promotional campaigns of the ambusher in different media. Part of this strategy focuses on foreseeing, intimidating, and preventing the practices of ambush marketing by, for example, putting pressure on the organizers of a given sport event in order to protect the rights of the sponsors, or offering sponsorship bundles of the event, transmission, and in some cases even time for commercials during the transmission. Many sports organizations have noticed the gravity of the threat of ambush marketing and have taken a firm position in protecting the value of their sports events and the interest of potential sponsors. Being aware of the potential damage of their product, the organizers of the world’s biggest sports events (IOC, FIFA) have taken offensive actions against ambushers. Not only have the sponsorship agreements been refined, but also individual programs for rights protection have been implemented.

Many studies on the strategies of fighting ambush marketing describe legal actions taken to minimize the negative effects of the phenomenon. As it was proved by the research of Hartland and Skinner (2005, p. 245), extra legal actions taken by sponsors and organizers “to block ambush attempts are only enforceable with recourse to the law”. Most of the authors focused on describing the legislative specifics of the host countries of the Olympics (Alexandrakis, 2009; Ellis, Gauthier, & Séguin, 2011; Grady, McKelvey, & Bernthal, 2010; Hartland & Williams-Burnett, 2012; James & Osborn, 2011; Stuart & Scassa, 2011), or describing actions taken by the International Olympic Committee in order to protect the rights of the official sponsors of the event (Payne, 1998; Stuart & Scassa, 2011). There is also work which presents normative acts on fighting ambush marketing in a given market, e.g. the Indian market (Mishra & Mishra, 2011). All the aforementioned authors have commented in their articles on the practical implications of the introduced acts, underlining the need for finding new legal ways to block ambush marketing practices.

Doust (1997) claims that every evaluation of the ethicality of such actions depends on the kind and context of a case. He agrees with the opinion that it is very difficult to unequivocally consider ambush marketing as an unethical action, for there is no detailed ethical code on conducting marketing actions. Meenaghan (1994) proposes a more rigorous industry evaluation criteria, which is in no way connected with a sport event, and is more indulgent with companies which are sponsors of a transmission of a sport event or national companies. Some researchers also stress that there are companies that use ambush marketing in order to gain a business advantage, achieve a required financial result, not to purposefully misguide the consumer (Crompton, 2004; Meenaghan, 1994, 1996). A somewhat different approach to the issue of ambush marketing ethics is presented by O‟Sullivan and Murphy (1998, p. 358), who discuss the actions of ambush marketers in regards to 4 theories of ethics: “utilitarianism, duty-based ethics, stake holder and virtue ethics”. Referring to these theories, the authors consider the evaluation of ambush marketing in relation to the consequences provoked by such actions, and to the intentions of companies using ambush marketing.

The earliest example of general anti-ambush advertising legislation were passed in South Africa in 2001 in preparation for the 2003 Cricket World Cup. The law gave the Minister of Trade and Industry the ability to designate specific events as "protected", making it illegal to use the event's trademarks visually, audibly, and "in promotional activities, which in any way, directly or indirectly, is intended to be brought into association with or to allude to an event", to "derive special promotional benefit from the event", without the consent of the organizer. Prior to the 2011 Rugby World Cup, New Zealand passed the similar "Major Events Management Act", which prohibits any promotional use of words, emblems, and concepts implying association with events specifically designated as "major" by the federal government, without permission from the event's organizers. The law also provides the ability for clean zones to be established around event sites for the purposes of enforcing advertising rules and providing crowd control.
The International Olympic Committee has required host cities to enact measures to restrict commerce around venues, ensure official sponsors have access to public advertising space, "reduce and sanction" ambush marketing, and keep venues "clean" of any references to non-sponsors. The IOC has also required Olympic broadcasters to give official sponsors the right of first refusal to advertising time during its telecasts. During the 2010 Winter Olympics, hockey venue Rogers Arena (then known as General Motors Place) was renamed "Canada Hockey Place" for the duration of the Games. The United Kingdom passed the London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Act 2006 prior to the 2012 Summer Olympics: on top of existing laws providing special protection for Olympic symbols, the act banned the use of the words "2012" and "Games" by non-sponsors, either together, or with words or concepts relating to the event, such as "Gold", "Silver", "Bronze", "Medals", "Summer", "Sponsors", or "London", to imply an association with the Games. LOCOG also announced plans to enforce these rules in the internet keyword advertising market.


1. Tranfield, D., Denyer, D., & Smart, P. (2003). Towards a methodology for developing evidence-informed management knowledge by means of systematic review. British Journal of Management, 14, 207-222.

2. Bettina Cornwell, T., Maignan, I., & Irwin, R. (1997). Long-term Recall of Sponsorship Sources: An Empirical Investigation of Stadium and Sport Cafe Audiences. Asia-Australia Marketing Journal, 5(1), 45-57. DOI:

3. Doust, D. (1997). The ethics of ambush marketing. Cyber-Journal of Sport Marketing, 1(3).

4. Farrelly, F., Quester, P., & Greyser, S.A. (2005). Defending the co-branding benefits of sponsorship B2B partnerships: The case of ambush marketing. Journal of Advertising Research, 45(3), 339-348.

5. Hoek, J. (1997). „Ring Ring‟: Visual Pun or Passing Off? : An Examination of Theoretical and Research Issues Arising from Ambush Marketing. Asia-Australia Marketing Journal, 5(1), 33-43. DOI:

6. Kinney, L., & McDaniel, S.R. (1996). Strategic implications of attitude-toward-the-ad in leveraging event and the special case of sponsorship-linked advertising. International Journal of Advertising, 31(1), 15-37.

7. Kinney, L., & McDaniel, S.R. (1996). Strategic implications of attitude-toward-the-ad in leveraging event

8. McKelvey, S., & Grady, J. (2008). Sponsorship program protection strategies for special sport events: Are event organizers outmanoeuvring ambush marketers? Journal of Sport Management, 22(5), 550-586.

9. McKelvey, S., Sandler, D.M., & Snyder, K. (2012). Sport Participant Attitudes toward Ambush Marketing: An Exploratory Study of ING New York City Marathon Runners. Sport Marketing Quarterly, 21(1), 7-18.

10. Meenaghan, T. (1994). Point of view: ambush marketing: immoral or imaginative practice? Journal of Advertising Research, 34(5), 77-88.

11. Meenaghan, T. (1996). Ambush marketing - A threat to corporate sponsorship. Sloan Management Review, 38(1), 103-113.

12. Meenaghan, T. (1998a). Ambush marketing: Corporate strategy and consumer reaction. Psychology and Marketing, 15(4), 305-322.

13. O'Reilly, N.J., & Lafrance Horning, D. (2013). Leveraging sponsorship: The activation ratio. Sport Management Review, In press. doi:

14. Pitt, L., Parent, M., Berthon, P., & Steyn, P. G. (2010). Event sponsorship and ambush marketing: Lessons from the Beijing Olympics. Business Horizons, 53(3), 281-290. doi:













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