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Is ‘Ambush Marketing’ Hurting the Olympics?

Published February 11, 2014 at 12:39 am

Along With the Winter Olympics in Sochi comes another inevitable athletic tradition: ads, ads, and more ads. But there’s something unique about this particular approach to selling fast food and sportswear, as Ira Boudway writes for Bloomberg Businessweek, and it often involves “ambush marketing.”

The way this works is simple: companies buy up ad space that puts them adjacent to (but not technically sponsors of) big expensive events like the Olympics in order to reach millions. Soon, customers get the impression that the brand is connected to the event, but the businesses themselves have saved money and arguably made a more concrete impression in viewers’ minds.

On the surface, this may seem like an accident, or something that only happens in the consumer’s heads. But Boudway quotes the professor Simon Chadwick on just how engineered these campaigns are.

“This is obviously a deliberate strategic decision that they have made,” he says. “They are trying to suggest that in some way they have an association with the Olympic Games.” This especially applies to sandwich chain Subway, which uses famous American Olympians in its ads without actually becoming a “partner” for the event (it will be interesting to see if a recent scandal involving chemicals in its bread affects its campaign).

And an article for Barrons shows how the trend isn’t really going away, despite attention from the International Olympic committee. Is this kind of approach harmless or crossing the line?

When dealing with a famous brand event like the Olympics, companies need to be very careful in the way they present their products or else risk losing credibility or violating rules.

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