23 November 2022 1425 words, 6 min. read Latest update : 16 January 2024

What is ambush marketing? Is it really worth it?

By Pierre-Nicolas Schwab PhD in marketing, director of IntoTheMinds
Ambush marketing is based on the virality caused by a major event. The principle is to capture customers’ attention for the sponsors of such an event. And brands are having a field day with it: even Pepsi, Audi, and Samsung […]

Ambush marketing is based on the virality caused by a major event. The principle is to capture customers’ attention for the sponsors of such an event. And brands are having a field day with it: even Pepsi, Audi, and Samsung have already tested it. However, everyone has their method: opt for a direct, frontal, and explicit approach, or choose the subtle and indirect way. So, what are the mechanics of this marketing technique, and above all, is it really worth it? Our table summarizing the advantages and disadvantages of ambush marketing will answer this question.


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30 seconds to know all about ambush marketing

  • It aims to generate virality for one’s brand within large-scale events
  • Direct and indirect approaches demonstrate a wide range of choices for brands tempted by ambush marketing
  • The practice is cost-effective, although it is complicated to assess its return on investment accurately
  • $57 billion: the value of the global sports sponsorship industry, a favorite playground for ambush marketing
  • The example of Samsung: break prices to steal market share from your competitors


Chapter 1

Ambush marketing: definition

What is this marketing practice, often seen and reviewed in sports events? The scientific literature defines it from the point of view of brands. For the latter, the objective is to be associated with a major event without being an official sponsor (Nufer, G., 2013). Thus, it is possible to take advantage of a major event to advertise for free.

The global sports sponsorship industry is estimated to be worth $57 billion in 2020. This is an advantage that you should consider. The truth is that ambush marketing is legal as long as it is not abused. If it is abused, your company may be subject to legal action.

ambush marketing rocket

In sum, it has two major objectives:

Chapter 2

What are the 4 main types of ambush marketing?

Many methods exist today to practice ambush marketing. They are divided into two categories: direct and indirect ambushing.

On the one hand, the direct approach is more aggressive. It uses visual elements and language associated with an event or a competing brand. Its goal is to capture the attention of an official sponsor. This needs to be clarified among customers as to the identity of the event’s partner. On the other hand, indirect ambush marketing is wiser and less provocative. Here, the indirect approach relies on more subtle visuals, sounds, and so on to capture the customers’ attention.

For more details, find below a detailed presentation of two direct ambush practices and two indirect approaches.

Coattail ambushing

Coattail ambushing aims to attract attention by sponsoring a participant in a major event. This practice borders on the legal; a balance must be found between discretion and glamour. To illustrate this idea, two examples are worth a look:

  • 1996, Atlanta Olympic Games: the British sprinter Linford Christie and his Puma glasses caught the eye of the spectators.
  • 2010 World Cup: 36 female spectators were expelled from the stadium following suspicions of illegal advertising for Dutch beer Bavaria. For cause, its competitor Budweiser was the official sponsor of this World Cup.

Predatory ambushing

It is quite aggressive, as it involves directly attacking another brand. We see it when a company explicitly criticizes the advertising efforts of a competitor. The goal is simple: to steal market share from the official sponsors of the event in question. As a result, viewers need clarification about who the real sponsor is.

The most telling case of predatory ambushing comes from the Lillehammer Winter Olympics in 1994. An ambush marketing campaign pitted Visa against American Express. The former sponsored the Olympics, while the latter tried to steal the show. The American Express advertising slogan explicitly mentions the name of its competitor.

“You don’t need a visa to go to Norway”: the American Express ad is explicit.


Associative ambushing

Here we enter the field of indirect ambush marketing. In addition, the brand gives the impression that it is associated with a large-scale event. To do this, it uses the communication codes of the sponsors and associates itself with an event on which it has no intellectual property.

In a sense, ambush marketing by association is similar to ambush sponsorship. However, the difference is that the visuals, slogans, and names are unique.

Values ambushing

By taking up the theme and appropriating the values of the event sponsor, ambush marketing becomes indirect. Indeed, the unofficial brand takes over the advertising choices of the real sponsor, attracting more users and boosting its notoriety.

From a moral point of view, this is certainly one of the most dubious sections of ambush marketing.


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Chapter 3

Advantages and disadvantages of ambush marketing campaigns

The impact of ambush marketing is complicated to assess. Indeed, it has as many positive as negative points. Its advantages are certain: it is an original and efficient way to reach your marketing target. On the other hand, the negative side is there. This technique is not morally sound and risky regarding finances and perceived image. The table below summarizes the effects of such a campaign on your organization:


Advantages Disadvantages
Leave room for creativity: ambush marketing allows you to use any channel, traditional media, street marketing, digital channels, and so on. Immediate actions required: one must act quickly and plan one’s strategy carefully; otherwise, the results will not have the desired effect.
Profitability: It does not require significant investments (in any case, not as much as for sponsors of major events). The return on investment is difficult to assess: What financial benefits for a brand using ambush marketing? Performance indicators provide estimates but are not a certainty.
Change customer perception:

  • Display the values of its brand.
  • Be recognized by the general public.
  • Be associated with an event that is popular with its spectators.
What about the rights of other brands: ambush marketing can violate the rights of real sponsors of an event
Responding directly to the competition: ambush marketing is effective in responding to marketing campaigns from direct competitors Dependence on competitors’ advertising efforts: without rival ads, there is no ambush marketing. Competitors set the pace.

Chapter 4

4 known examples of ambush marketing

Ambush marketing has found its bearings in many sectors. We find, of course, sports, but also the automobile industry and even hardware. The biggest companies in the world have already tried ambush marketing: Pepsi, Samsung, Audi, and so on.

World Cup 2014: Pepsi is the talk of the town

For the 2014 Brazilian World Cup, Pepsi hit hard, and in two ways:

  • Big names in sports: Lionel Messi and Sergio Ramos participated in the advertisements of the beverage brand.
  • The same communication codes: Pepsi aired a commercial almost identical to that of Coca-Cola to take advantage of the partnership signed between the brand and FIFA

Pepsi could promote its brand without sponsoring the event by surfing on the World Cup’s viral nature.

The Apple-Samsung showdown

2011, the iPhone 4S is about to be released. The technological event was the most anticipated of the year. Until Samsung spoiled the party. The South Korean company opted for the surprise effect, and twice:

  • Pop-up store: the brand set up shop a few meters from the Apple Store in Sydney.
  • Low prices: Samsung used this pricing technique for its Galaxy SII, sold at 2 Australian dollars. As a reminder, the last iPhone then cost nearly 900 dollars.
ambush marketing Samsung Apple

Ambush marketing, Samsung’s secret weapon against its competitor Apple.

Audi, BMW and billboards

On many occasions, BMW and Audi used billboards to win the hearts of the surrounding public. Audi and BMW, which enjoy the public’s trust, sometimes engage in ambush marketing.

In this case, they have used billboards as a battleground.

ambush marketing Audi

Audi engaged in a fierce communication battle against BMW


RONA parodies iPods

Let’s end this article with the example of RONA, an American hardware store. In 2010, the company hijacked the visual elements of an Apple product, the iPod Nano. With a simple sentence, it was able to appropriate the multiple colors of the MP3 player and make fun of them.

With this sentence: “We get the leftover paint,” RONA remains the initiator of one of the most striking ambush marketing campaigns of recent years.


Posted in Marketing.

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