FIFA is cracking down on ambush marketers to protect its official sponsors and partners. Prior to the start of this year’s World Cup in Brazil, FIFA forced the host country to pass legislation that allows it to be more aggressive in combating ambush marketing. The reason for such drastic measures is FIFA’s concern that if it can’t control ambush marketing, it can’t ensure sponsors that they get value for their investments, said Jeff Greenbaum, managing partner of New York-based law firm Frankfurt Kurnit. Companies like adidas, Anheuser-Busch InBev, Coca-Cola and Sony pay millions to be associated with the World Cup. In return, FIFA provides them with exclusivity. The companies are able to use the official logos and trademarks of FIFA and the World Cup on their products or in ad campaigns. They receive exclusive access and can call themselves official sponsors. Greenbaum told SBD Global that if FIFA can’t provide this exclusivity to its partners, it will not be able to sell these sponsorships in the future. Organizers, such as FIFA and the IOC, forcing countries to pass special laws protecting against ambush marketing has led to concerns about the reach of these laws as they have become broader over the past decade. “Part of the difficulty with FIFA and the Olympics getting jurisdictions to create new special laws to help them enforce their rights is it creates a lot of uncertainty about what are the practices that cross the line,” Greenbaum said. Ahead of the 2012 London Games, there were a series of conferences run by legal firms explaining the do’s and don’ts to companies trying to market themselves around the Olympics, according to Nigel Currie, director of sports marketing agency Brand Rapport.
BEATING THE RULES: With ambush marketing by intrusion and association strictly prohibited, marketers look for new ways to take advantage of the buzz and hype that surround big sporting events. Instead of directly referencing the respective event, non-official sponsors simply talk about elements of what is happening. “Many companies are trying to create advertising featuring players they have long-standing relationships with as a way to capture the excitement around the World Cup,” Greenbaum said. Electronics brand Beats by Dre has been the most prominent example of what FIFA deems to be an infraction. Ahead of the tournament in Brazil, the company launched its “The Game Before The Game” campaign, which features World Cup participants such as Neymar, Luis Suárez and Bastian Schweinsteiger, but does not mention the event by name. While FIFA evidently had no problem with the campaign, Reuters reported it has banned players from wearing the company’s headphones in World Cup stadiums for official matches and media events. The tournament’s official sponsor in the category of consumer electronics is Sony. Beats by Dre also caused a stir during the London Games as it sent its products to Team GB athletes. The IOC subsequently banned British athletes and others from wearing the headphones to protect the interests of official sponsor Panasonic. FIFA was unable to provide SBD Global with a concrete number of infringements leading up to this year’s tournament, but said it is noticing an increase. To give some perspective, FIFA said that during the four-year cycle leading up to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa it dealt with roughly 2,000 instances of infringements of its rights.
A GREY AREA: The globalization of advertising campaigns, the importance of communicating with consumers 24/7 through social media and the fact that marketers have become more sophisticated means the trend of host countries being required to enact special laws that help protect the interest of certain rights holders will continue, said Greenbaum. Aggressive enforcement on the part of the rights holders is likely to result in a more conservative marketing approach by companies to avoid becoming a target. “Brands (particularly bookies) will continue to have some fun and try to push the laws to the limits,” said Currie. “But the likes of Pepsi and Nike have developed outstanding campaigns which use the media focus of major sporting events but which don’t break any rules.” While Greenbaum believes there are rights that need to be protected, he said there is no right answer to the controversial issue of ambush marketing. “We are going to be continuing to sort of wrestle with when does legitimate marketing cross the line,” Greenbaum said. “One of the great things about advertisers and advertising is that it is a creative field, and they will always come up with new ways to say what they want to say.”