Are ‘free-riding’ brands taking it a step too far?

By Will Northover, Client Services Manager, Blackjack Promotions

A little bit of controversy is all well and good in the world of sponsorship, but I dare say that some of the recent “ambush marketing’ tactics we’ve seen from brands might just be taking it a step too far.

The most recent brand in question is Peugeot with its #KickItToBrazil digital campaign. Although not an official sponsor of the FIFA World Cup, the automaker has embarked on a campaign to transport a football all the way from Paris to Brazil, travelling across 30 countries, due to arrive its destination on the eve of the World Cup, which kicks off on June 12. The whole activity can be tracked via a dedicated Facebook and Instagram page using the hashtag #KickItToBrazil as well as via a microsite.

Although Peugeot has denied any efforts to link with the FIFA World Cup, it’s pretty clear that the official automotive sponsors – Hyundai and Kia Motors – might just be a little miffed.

We only have to look back at the London 2012 Olympics to see some more examples. Nike pulled off a brilliant example of ambush marketing during the greatest show on earth all with an amazing yellow-green neon shoe to become one of the most prominent non-sponsors of the Olympics (not something official sponsor Adidas wants to hear).

Then of course there’s Paddy Power who grabbed headlines in 2012 for its not-too-subtle reference to the London 2012 Olympics with a billboard campaign highlighting its status at ‘Official sponsor of the largest athletics event in London this year! London France that is’…

All’s fair in love and war but I do question whether these embargos have been taken a little too far? It’s no surprise that FIFA has stepped in and issued a World Cup warning to ‘free-riding’ brands looking to boost sales through World Cup-related marketing, with a statement that non-sponsors should “refrain from attempts to free-ride on the huge public interest generated by the event”.

Of course, we should all spare a thought for the official sponsors who have forked out lots of cash to be associated with these events. There’s no reason why brands can’t look to benefit from the World Cup, but this must be done in a way that doesn’t create a clear brand association with the event itself.