Ambush marketing is a market strategy also known as coat tail marketing or predatory ambushing used by companies to promote their products and advertise them in the best possible manner. It is a concept where a particular brand owner tries to associate itself with a particular event without paying sponsorship fees. Basically, through ambush marketing, a company can take advantage of the popularity of a particular event. It becomes a huge obstacle for those who are official sponsors of the event. Whether ambush marketing can be called opportunistic commercial exploitation or trademark infringement is a stone left unturned. Due to cut-throat competition, an ambusher can easily establish its reputation without bearing the financial aspects of sponsorship. Ambush marketing has become a threat to the integrity and authenticity of the event and the company’s advertising fortune is at jeopardy.
One of the early incidents of ambush marketing was during 1992 Winter Olympics, when the audience witnessed a tussle between VISA and Master Card “AmEx”. Visa had paid $ 20 million for sponsorship and was the official sponsor of ’92 Winter Games. Visa promoted itself by running advertisements with a tagline saying“the Olympics don’t take American Express” and that technically, it was the true ticket to games of the event. AmEx soon comes up with an advertisement with the tagline “When you go to Spain you’ll need a passport – you don’t need a Visa”. Therefore, Visa accused American Express for “parasite marketing”.
It was held in the famous case of NHL v. Pepsi Cola, Canada, a very popular strategy used by Pepsi was by giving a disclaimer that the company is not the official sponsor helped Pepsi escape from the liability and rather wriggled out an allegation of trademark infringement against NHL. NHL signed an agreement with Coca Cola to be the official drink throughout the tournament. Pepsi Cola comes up with the advertisement that reflected that Pepsi was the official sponsor. In response, Pepsi argued that it was legitimate advertising and promotional campaign.
In India, the Delhi High Court refused to recognize “Ambush Marketing” as intellectual property infringement when the ICC brought a suit against Britannia during the World Cup. In the case of ICC Developmental International Ltd. v. Arvee, the dispute was regarding a contest organized by Arvee to win tickets to World Cup for which ICC has registered itself to publicize the event. The Court held that it was not a misuse of any event and also denied to recognize “Ambush Marketing”. Recently, ambush marketing during the Rio Olympics, 2016 was observed. A telco giant “Telstra” decides to associate itself with the Rio Olympics, 2016 to compete with its rival “Optus” who was the official sponsor of the event. The Australian Olympic Committee wanted to protect the official sponsors and took legal action against Telstra in the Federal Court.
Ambush marketing is a questionable practice. Brand owners believe that if they ambush the market it is one of the honest ways to draw the attention of the consumers. But in reality, if the ambushers are allowed to continue, it highly demotivates official sponsors and discourages them. Therefore, ambush marketing cannot be simply termed as a market strategy altogether if it violates the rights of the official sponsors. Hence, strict legislation is much needed.
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