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Ambush marketing – ‘An Olympic event’


Sponsorship has outperformed all other marketing communication tools in terms of growth throughout the 1990s. The Olympic Games with its huge audience is perhaps the premier place for companies to showcase their brand(s). But an increasing number of corporate contestants find themselves in a gruelling strugle against ambush marketing attempts by their competitors. Ambush marketing is a growing option that has emerged on the heels of the rising costs for securing sponsorship rights. As sponsorship fees demanded by event owners increase, more marketers find the asking price to be outside the reach of their budgets and are forced to look for communication alternatives. Companies that cannot afford to buy sponsorship, or choose not to, may be attracted to an ‘ambush’ strategy for defensive as well as offensive reasons. Ambush marketing represents a way to try to blunt and perhaps even neutralise their competitor's investment. Especially when the official sponsor is non-vigilant, there is growing case evidence of ambush marketing succeeding. So companies buying official sponsorships need to have a strong marketing plan for leveraging their sponsorship investments to minimise any windows of opportunity for would-be ambushers. To the extent that ambush marketing succeeds, it not only defeats the sponsoring company but also risks devaluing the future of corporate sponsorship of events. The Sydney 2000 Olympiad is the battleground for the next major war between sponsors and ambush marketers. The outcome will be important not only to competitors and sponsors but also to the marketing industry as a whole.

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1John A. Tripodi is Franchise Manager for Mars Confectionery of Australia/New Zealand where he oversees the marketing of a number of brands in Mars' product portfolio. He began his professional career in sales with Cadbury Schweppes. John has a Bachelor of Commerce from the University of Melbourne and First-Class Honours in Marketing from Monash University Australia where his thesis on sponsorship marketing and dissertation on brand management both won prestigious awards at the 1999 Australian Marketing Institute Awards for Marketing Excellence. His prime focus for research and consulting are in the areas of strategic marketing, brand management, marketing communicatons and sports marketing. He can be contacted at

2Dr Max Sutherland recently retired as Creative Director of NFO MarketMind — the global tracking company he co-founded and which was acquired by NFO. A registered psychologist, he is also author of the business bestseller ‘Advertising and the Mind of the Consumer’. Max now works as a business consultant in Silicon Valley. He is also Visiting Professor at Santa Clara University in California and adjunct Professor at Swinburne and Monash Universities in Melbourne.

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Tripodi, J., Sutherland, M. Ambush marketing – ‘An Olympic event’. J Brand Manag 7, 412–422 (2000).

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