Planning an ambush around this year’s World Cups? Avoid being cautioned by the regulators.
What’s ambush marketing?
You’ll notice that every major sporting event will have ‘official partners’, a list of companies who have likely paid a sizable amount to have their name affiliated with the occasion. With the Women’s Football World Cup beginning this weekend and the Rugby World Cup opening this September in the UK, sponsoring such an event presents a valuable opportunity for companies to reach a global audience.
Those sponsors are given rights to reference the event in their marketing as an official partner and for their brand to be used at the event itself. Ambush marketing is the term given to brands referencing events, either directly or indirectly, when the company hasn’t paid to be a sponsor or official partner. PR “stunts” are not covered by the CAP Code; advertising based on them is.
What does the Code say?
The Code does not preclude people from referencing sporting events but ads must not mislead consumers by implying that an official relationship exists when it does not.
In addition to the general rules against misleading advertising, the Code prohibits ads from taking unfair advantage of a competitor’s trade mark and requires that marketers hold evidence that endorsements are genuine (see our advice on unfair advantage).
Marketers should take care when referencing sporting events to avoid complaints to the ASA being upheld. If there’s any suggestion that there’s an official affiliation when this isn’t the case then the ASA is likely to consider such references as misleading and in breach of the Codes. As always, the ASA will take into account the overall impression of the copy including images, icons and symbols used.
It pays to be wary
The ASA previously considered a complaint from a national sporting association, regarding an ad for a well-known beer brand that included the claim “support English rugby”. The advertiser wasn’t an official sponsor of the England rugby team, however on that occasion the ASA Council noted that the brand was, in various guises, a financial supporter of English rugby generally and did not uphold the complaint.
The line can be as fine as it gets when it comes to the difference between appropriately referring to an event generally and misleadingly claiming an affiliation. Including a reference to watching sport, including a generic image of footballs, or using sporting puns are unlikely to be problematic in isolation but we’d recommend taking a step back to see what impression is being created by the copy overall.