Ambush Marketing in the 2024 Summer of Sport

Despite England and Scotland’s struggles in the Euros thus far, 2024 is living up to its billing as a ‘Summer of Sport’ featuring the Olympic Games, the Euros, the Cricket World Cup and Wimbledon, with businesses across the world getting creative with their campaigns, hoping to capitalise on the action by flirting with advertising regulations in a bid to take advantage of high profile events. Here, Trainee Solicitor, Eleanor Drury, looks at the rise of Ambush Marketing.

The official name for this is ‘Ambush Marketing’. It refers to third parties trying to link themselves to a major event, either directly or indirectly, to gain the benefits and positive associations of the event without paying for official sponsorship. Ambush marketing is historically common within sports, with examples dating back to the 1996 Olympics whereby sportswear brand ‘Nike’, a non-official sponsor of the event, ingeniously took out extensive advertising space on billboards across the host city of Atlanta, going as far as to open a brand new Nike store right behind the Olympic Village and famously kitting out American athlete Michael Johnson in a pair of $30,000 custom gold Nike trainers as he won both the 200 metre and 400 metre races.

Ambush marketing has recently been on the rise and major sporting events are now catching on, with the Wimbledon Tennis Championships acknowledging the influx of free sun hats, rain capes, umbrellas, suntan creams, radios and water bottles given by businesses to spectators outside of the event in the hopes of free advertisement of their brand to the world and putting strict mechanisms in place as a result to prevent the unauthorised commercial advertising material.

Whilst no doubt pushing ethical boundaries, ambush marketing is not made illegal by virtue of a specific legislation and is rather combatted by intellectual property rights and self-regulatory advertising codes such as the UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising and Direct & Promotional Marketing (CAP Code) and the UK Code of Broadcast Advertising (BCAP Code), along with controls placed on athletes during tournaments and events via contracts related to countries and states’ participation.

More often than not, event organisers will generally register the name and logo of their event as trademarks, allowing them to pursue infringement proceedings for unauthorised use of the mark in any advertisements or products based on the concept of unfair advantage. Even in the absence of registered intellectual property rights, organisers have an avenue of security by way of ‘passing off’, which affords them with protection of their accrued goodwill and reputation in instances where another trader is falsely leading the public to believe that their goods or services are in any way affiliated with the event.

For businesses still wishing to get creative with their marketing campaigns in order to benefit from the action this summer, there are smart and practical ways to do so, and if somebody would reasonably expect to see an official sponsor logo on your activity, then you may wish to re-think your marketing strategy.

If you would like advice on your adverts or marketing then get in touch with our specialist fixed-fee, fast-response team:

  • Eleanor Drury

    Trainee Solicitor