MKTG Sochi Insights: Ambush Spotlight
Yesterday, MKTG President and CEO Brian Cooper appeared on CBC's Lang and O'Leary Exchange to discuss the value of Olympic sponsorship. Among other topics, Brian touched on ambush sponsorship- an inevitable reality of Olympic marketing. As the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics enter their 5th day, the presence of non-sponsors ambushing the games and attempting to draw an association is as apparent as ever. While official sponsors pay top-tier investment fees, plenty of brands have been developing an Olympic-themed brand narrative over the past couple of weeks. MKTG, in the second installment of our "Sochi Insights" series will profile three notable case studies in Sochi 2014 ambush sponsorship.
Subway's use of former US Olympian Apolo Anton Ohno, as well their use of Olympic sport imagery are a clear ambush attempt. McDonald's is the official QSR Olympic sponsor worldwide at the IOC level. The likelihood that Subwaycanundercut the equity McDonald's has in the Olympics in an impactful way is small. McDonald's has a rich legacy in Olympic marketing and is authentic to the property. The tactic is not new on the part of Subway though. During the 2010 Vancouver Games, Subway used a similar approach by leveraging Michael Phelps as a brand ambassador to ambush the event. The strategy of sponsoring an athlete rather than a property is a cost-effective approach for some brands, however your ability to activate one individual athlete is a meaningful and emotionally engaging way as a non-sponsor is limited.
After ambushing the Vancouver Games in 2010 through their partnership with Right to Play, Roots returns to the ambush scene in Sochi. The ambush in this scenario is subtle but notable given Roots' legacy in COC sponsorship. Roots was formerly the official outfitter of the Canadian Olympic Team before they were replaced in the category by Hudson's Bay. While the brand exited formal sponsorship, they have maintained their attempt to associate with the Olympics. The brand's use of Wayne Gretzky - a Canadian icon - at a time of intense Canadian pride is no accident. Given the success that HBC has had through formal sponsorship as the official outfitter of Team Canada (ie. Red Mittens campaign generated over $20 million in revenue), the benefits of actual sponsorship are on full display.
3. North Face
Staying in the fashion category, North Face, who has recently been sued by the COC for their ambush attempt and "Villagewear" clothing line, has stood by their ambush attempt. As a supporter of the Olympic freestyle team, North Face is claiming legitimacy for their campaign. Like Subway did with individual athletes, their tactic has been to sponsor an individual sport association and gain a sidedoor link to the Games. A wider trend may in fact be the prevalence of retailers and fashion brands engaging in ambush. As MKTG touched on in our Monday blog post, these brands are likely temped by the strong commercial potential of Olympic-themed apparel. By bringing their association to the Games to life in the form of a saleable product, fashion brands/retailers can earn a high ROI on their Olympic marketing.
Key Takeaways on Ambush:
Firstly, Ambush is a habit. There is a philosophical decision that brand teams must make: "Do I engage on Ambush or not?". As seen in the above examples, most ambushers are repeat performers (ie. Roots and Subway). Brands who engage in ambush risk being ambushed against in their own sponsorship activity.
Secondly, for official sponsors, the best protection against ambush is to tell your story in a unique and authentic way through activation and creative messaging. Brands like Coca-Cola and P&G receive a very little inter-category ambush threats because they are so tightly linked to the Olympics. If you tell your story effectively, and leverage your assets in a strategic way, no ambush brand will be able to compete.