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Ambush Marketing at Its Finest – Timing is Everything

Much like the other 41.7 million people in the United States, I was knee deep in NBC’s coverage of the Summer Olympics this past summer.  Seemingly coming up again and again over the course of the Games was the ability – or inability in some cases – of companies marketing during the Olympics to appropriately time their brand messaging.

One of the most prevalent brands visible to just about everyone watching the games on TV in the U.S. was Nike. What’s most interesting about that last statement is Nike wasn’t even an official sponsor of the London Olympics. For the record, Nike does retain domestic sponsorship rights and is the Official Outfitter for Team USA, so they certainly have invested time, money and other resources into the Games in their own way. But their biggest rival and competitor, Adidas was the official gear sponsor for the London Olympics in a deal worth an estimated £80 million. The deal gave Adidas exclusive licensing rights for branded and unbranded sports wear at venues and stores, among many other things.

So how did Nike do it? How did they manage to pop up on my TV in many different places and times throughout the Games?

Well, it’s all about timing. 

Nike identified the most memorable and visible times during the Olympics and did whatever they could to have their patented swoosh logo mark front and center.

It happened multiple times during just the track & field portion of the Games as USA athletes took home medals, most conveniently wearing Nike’s neon yellow Volt shoes, that just by way of there bright color stood out like a sore thumb. The shoes stood out even more so due to the contrasting background of the red track at London’s Olympic Stadium. The shoes literally couldn’t be missed on TV. I just kept noticing them.

They completely owned three of USA’s most popular teams, the men and women’s basketball and women’s soccer teams. USA basketball sported Nike Hyper Elite uniforms and USA Soccer wore full-on Nike branded uniforms inspired by the look of the American Flag. To continue the brand onslaught, after the US women’s soccer team won the gold against Japan, someone handed each player on the women’s soccer team a Nike shirt that read “Greatness Has Been Found.” I say “someone” facetiously of course – that someone being from Nike or at least acting on Nike’s behalf. The slogan incited a social media riot, claiming the US team was “classless” and “gross” – causing even more people to take notice of the Nike shirts that would have not otherwise noticed – all part of Nike’s original plan I’m sure.

Yet somehow that was just the tip of the iceberg. Perhaps the most visible part of any Olympic Games is the medal ceremony. And of course, Nike owned that too. USA athletes draped themselves in light grey or blue Nike jackets (retailing for as much as $449.95) on the podium, jacket style and color depending on their specific sport, making it easy for onlookers to again notice the swoosh.

Then following medal ceremonies, where did the athletes go? Directly to NBC studios of course for their traditional medal winner interview, all beamed back to the US and fed across one or more of NBC’s five channels covering the Olympics, with Nike’s swoosh front and center.

Timing is everything for brands in this day and age. And that’s just what Nike wanted to accomplish at the 2012 London Olympic Games, to appear in places at the right time and right place for a fraction of the cost other sponsors paid for the same right.

Yes, ambush marketing at its finest…

Some rules for building your own ambush marketing plan:

  1. Don’t get strung out.  You can only cover so much ground in an ambush. You can’t be everywhere at once. Choose wisely. Pick an event, or a social media promotion, or 100 college students that can’t wait to tattoo your brand on their forehead, or whatever area your brand can own – then own it.
  2. Once you’ve selected an area your brand can own, identify impact points where your brand can make an impression within that area.
  3. Be ready to change plans because plans never go according to plan in an ambush. If your plan strays off its intended course, be prepared. Stay nimble. Monitor and update your communications plan and course correct as needed and on the fly.
  4. Remember that customers don’t care whether you’re dishing the ambush or on the receiving end of the ambush. Don’t take it personal just be sure and take a step back and look at the customers point of view when building your plan.

Leave a Reply

  1. Jamie Kirkwood says:

    The neon yellow shoes certainly caught my attention! I think everybody wanted a pair after the Olympics ended. Clever move for Nike.

  2. I tried on one of those Nike Jackets at the store… they were awesome but I couldn’t bring myself to spend that type of money on a jacket 🙂

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