What is Ambush Marketing?

Published on: March 6, 2014

Ambush Marketing is a marketing technique which involves riding on the coattails of a major event or campaign without actually paying for or participating in the sponsorship or event (www.wisegeek.com). It is a tactic that many vendors use to get free promotion and compete with those vendors actually paying for the sponsorships and/or event without having to dish out the big bucks themselves.

Prime Examples of Ambush Marketing

EXAMPLE #1: Olympic Games

Because we just saw the 2014 Winter Olympics, it is a great example of Ambush Marketing to start with. In 1996, Nike rolled out one of the most memorable Ambush Marketing Campaigns in history. 1996 Atlanta Games Michael JohnsonDuring the 1996 Olympic Games held in Atlanta, Nike chose not to actually invest in the games themselves or any sponsorships and instead chose to try their hands at Ambush Marketing. Nike not only lined the streets of the city of Atlanta with Olympic themed advertisements, they also created one of the most memorable moments at the 1996 Olympics: Michael Johnson with the gold Nike Shoes he raced in and his gold medals. No one even remembered that Reebok actually sponsored the games, just Nike, those shoes and all the advertisements surrounding the games. 1992 USA Basketball In 1992 Nike sponsored Michael Jordan and the USA basketball team. During the Awards Ceremony Michael Jordan covered up the Adidas logo on his uniform with the American Flag he was holding. After the Awards Ceremony a lot of people were upset, saying he did it purposely because NIKE was sponsoring him.

EXAMPLE #2: RONA Home Improvement Chain in Canada

AppleI find this example of Ambush Marketing very unique and innovative. RONA placed their ad under an Apple iPod advertisement in an available ad space. It is not your typical type of Ambush Marketing because it is not done to grab a bigger percent of the market from a direct competitor. It said “Nous récupérons les restes de peinture” translating into, “we recycle leftover paint.” (www.businessinsider.com) This example was not global like Apple, but it surely got attention with its single occurrence.

EXAMPLE #3: 2006 FIFA World Cup

Again Nike is the star of this example. In the 2006 World Cup, Nike once again created a successful Ambush Marketing campaign. They launched a social networking website for the world’s soccer fans as part of it’s “Joga Bonito” (a beautiful game) marketing campaign. Nike claimed that their website and sponsorship of the Brazilian soccer team combined gave them the same exposure as their competitors Adidas, only they didn’t pay the extra millions that Adidas had to for the Cup Sponsorship.

Pros and Cons of Ambush Marketing


  1. For the company running the Ambush Marketing campaign, it is a much cheaper option to get your brand noticed and in some cases with the same amount of impact if not more.
  2. Ambush Marketing is a great way to jump-start your business in the beginning because most start-ups don’t have the financial capability to sponsor something as large as the Olympics or Super Bowl.
  3. Ambush Marketing creates more competition among companies jockeying for market share which is good for consumers; more competition usually means lower prices.


  1. Successful Ambush Marketing diminishes the value of the actual sponsorships and brands who invest.
  2. Some say that Ambush Marketing is a sneaky and less honest way to market and therefore, in a smaller, more local approach, it may not be a good solution. A smaller local business may not be able to handle the negative media and brand impact surrounding it.
  3. The word “Ambush” itself carries a negative connotation with it.
  4. The actual sponsors of events get certain advantages and privileges that the “Ambush” company will never have.

Back to Basics – Final Thoughts

At first glance, Ambush Marketing seems like a smart and innovative use of marketing dollars.  It is a great way to go back to basics and capitalize on others who have deep pockets and can pay big bucks for marketing and advertising sponsorships. This type of marketing also comes with risks such as the negative connotation that goes along with it. In fact some feel that Ambush Marketing is unethical and very sneaky. There are obvious acknowledgements and benefits that come along with sponsoring an event like the Olympics that you can’t get from Ambush Marketing.  On the other hand, think about what you could do with those millions of dollars that sponsorship costs.

Be Practical

I tend to be more of a practical marketer and generally stick to the basics. To me, sponsoring an event of that stature is not part of a basic marketing strategy and involves a lot of risk. It is definitely a personal choice and I see both sides of it. Companies who can sustain a large sponsorship like that have definitely made it to the big leagues and want everyone to know it.

“Logic will get you from A to Z; imagination will get you everywhere.” – Author Unknown

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