7 March 2015 6 min read

It was everywhere – the TV, the newspaper, Facebook, Twitter, your local pub…football was ‘coming home’, and it was here to stay for a while. The 2014 World Cup produced record breaking viewing figures for its broadcasts, as according to FIFA the US v Ghana match drew in 11.1 million viewers on ESPN, and (although we may wish we never had watched it) England v Italy drew in 14.2 million views on the BBC. Therefore the World Cup was bigger than ever before, and whilst it may be all over for England, the marketing opportunities are nowhere near finished.

Getting a slice of the marketing action during the World Cup may seem like a ‘no-brainer’ for many companies, as the tournament provides a large-scale captive audience on an international, multi-faceted platform. Yet, companies have to be very careful how far they push these opportunities. Unless your company is lucky enough to be an official sponsor of the FIFA World Cup, jumping on the bandwagon of the World Cup popularity can be risky, as if they go too far they may find they are ‘ambush marketing’.

Piggy-back marketing

Ambush marketing involves a company ‘piggy-backing’ on to the success of a particular event, therefore associating themselves with it, yet without paying any sponsorship fee. This can be done directly, such as using the FIFA World Cup logo, slogans or name to bring more popularity to your business, or indirectly, whereby companies create an illusion that they are connected with the particular event, but without actually infringing any protected trademarks. 

This marketing strategy of ‘jumping on the bandwagon’ was seen in the 2006 FIFA World Cup. The Bavaria Brewery got around 1000 fans to don a set of orange overalls, complete with the logo of the brewery, which were given away with the Bavaria Beer before the World Cup. Although the Brewery got off lightly in 2006, they thought they would give it another shot in the 2010 FIFA World Cup – this time with miniskirts – yet to the result of an arrest of the group. Whilst the garments did not bear any official FIFA trademarks, this stunt gave the impression that Bavaria was a legitimate fee-paying sponsor. 

Whilst physical merchandise will always be a major concern for ambush marketing, it is in fact the growth of social media that seems to have mass sporting organisations playing in defence. The growth of online marketing through Twitter and Facebook is so rapid that it’s proving hard to police properly with regards to intellectual property, as was seen in the 2012 Olympic Games. Through the production of more tweets than Adidas, who were the official sponsors of the games, Nike actually pulled in the most new Facebook ‘likes’. 

Given the huge scope of social media, it could easily be said “Yeah…but are they really going to shut down every Twitter or Facebook page that pushes it a bit too far?”. The answer would probably be yes – as was the message sent out by the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games [Locog], when they got Twitter to shut down the ‘Space Hijackers’ account as the ‘Official Protestors of London 2012’ for using the trademarked Olympic logo, despite having only 2,700 followers. 

Whilst this may seem a bit far on the part of Locog, it’s necessary if any organisation wants to retain their marketing worth. As FIFA itself explains on its official website, it will “devalue official sponsorship”, and “take advantage of the goodwill and positive image generated by the FIFA World Cup without contributing to its organisation.” Also, research in Beijing following the ambush marketing of the 2008 Olympic Games by companies such as Pepsi saw that thousands of Chinese people believed they were in fact official sponsors. And, most importantly, ¾ of Chinese people would give preference to a product they believed to be officially associated with the Olympics.

What Fifa wants, Fifa gets

Whilst World Cup aggression has so far been in the form of the return of an apparently very hungry Luis Suárez, it may soon be time for FIFA to take centre stage, as they are notorious for aggressively protecting their trademarks. Under Brazilian World Cup law, any FIFA trademark is automatically classed as having a ‘well known’ status and therefore is afforded exceptional protection. 

Moreover, any Brazil World Cup games operate under a ‘2km bubble’ around each venue, whereby inside this bubble only official merchandise can be sold, distributed and advertised. Whilst these measures may seem a bit extreme by FIFA, as it’s seemingly impossible to stop all ambush marketing given the scale of the event, the penalty for this infringement is a jail stay for 3 months to 1 year – illustrating the strong message being sent out by FIFA that ambush marketing their events is really not tolerated. Seeing as Pepsico and Volkswagen have recently embarked on ambush marketing campaigns on the back of the FIFA 2014 World Cup, it’s certainly going to be an interesting match for the FIFA Legal Counsel team this summer. 

At Hybrid, we can provide various trademark and copyright for your business. Contact us to book your free consultation to discuss your legal requirements in further detail; we’ll be delighted to talk to you.

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Jonathan Craddock

Jonathan graduated in LLB law from the University of the West of England in 2012. He then completed the Legal Practice Course in 2013 before working with some of Southampton’s top law firms.

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