Ambush Marketing & Sochi – Sponsorship Insight by Markus Lichti

Markus Lichti Repucom

Markus Lichti, Repucom Wintersport Expert:

The concept of ‘Ambush Marketing’ or utilizing an event to market a brand, product or service is a common and widely discussed topic in sports sponsorship. The peaks in viewership of large scale events mean they are ever under the marketing opportunists’ watchful eye and their inherent quest to maximize the reach and success of their marketing efforts without having to pay the sums required to become an official partner.

There are however exceptions to the often and increasingly strict rules stipulated by event owners and organizers with regard to ‘unofficial’ branding and sponsorship. Athletes clothing and apparel offers perhaps one example. Although Adidas is the official partner, Nike, Puma and Kappa are all free to provide the international teams of the FIFA World Cup with their respective national kits.

Like the World Cup, organizers of the Sochi Games are equally as strict and with good reason as they seek to protect their Games and the investment made by its official partners.

Ambush Marketing and Sochi 2014

In late 2010, German online flight booking service fluege.de bought the ski producer, Germina. As a result, Germina became fluege.de. To begin, 9 ski jumpers were endorsed and the fluege.de brand was positioned for all to see on the bottom of the ski jumper’s skis, a well suited brand symmetry given the companies service as an online flight booking service. Today, over 100 jumpers are endorsed in over 15 countries.

As the manufacture of the skis, fluege.de was of course now very visible during the forthcoming World Cup Championships. However, this is not a view shared by all as the company found out ahead of the Sochi Games.

German public television stated over the opening weekend of the Games that the organizing committee does not see fluege.de as a ‘regular gear producer’. Astonishing then perhaps that the German broadcasters, ARD and ZDF both openly talked about this paradox live on air, while an endorsed jumper flew 100m through the air with the remains of fluege.de’s blue sky and clouds brand (minus the company name) for all to see.

Testing the boundaries with fluege.de

The reason why this case is perhaps so interesting is that it raises a number of questions. As is most pertinent an issue here, where do organisers draw the line in terms of who they see as a manufacture and who they do not? What happens if a kit supplier is bought and renamed by an unofficial yet perhaps globally recognized brand? Furthermore, clothing, apparel and athlete accessories the best place for an ‘ambush marketer’ to focus their marketing spend to generate maximum reach into a market? Have marketers found a potential (if expensive) gap in the market? Where fluege.de failed (and I must stress, I am not suggesting they are ambushers themselves) will others now attempt and even succeed?