by: Jonathan Salem Baskin

Much has been written about the merits of a dark arts branding practice called ambush marketing, and it all depends on a belief that anybody cares in the first place.

So picture this: some soda-pop or beer company pays a gazillion smackers to sponsor a European football match. Billboards. Logos on all plastic cups. Spirit towels, or whatever they're called over wherever. Maybe a giant blimp hovering above the pitch. Everything is right on brand, and the marketing and agency bigwigs are enjoying the match from the VIP box that came with the campaign.

Then, apparently spontaneously, fans across the stadium rip off their shirts and reveal the bright colors of a competing brand of swill. Egads! The sponsor brand has been ambushed. League officials humbly genuflect and offer discounts on the next lavish VIP spread. Marketing media report it as a brilliant, if not rather devious, gimmick to capture consumer attention.

Like anybody cares?

Interrupting a sponsorship only has value if the sponsorship itself has value, and I'm not sure that’s necessarily the case.

In a world populated by the fleet-footed, big sports sponsorships are a bit of a lumbering dinosaur...a throwback to an antediluvian time of big spends to get category-exclusive name exposure at big events. The expectations of greatness-by-association and brand exposures were once the drivers of branding, and today still render major marketers dumb (or just momentarily insane) every time the Super Bowl comes around.

I'm not sure consumers ever cared, but they certainly don't anymore. And even if they did, isn't there a better math for deciding how to blow through lots of branding money?

Major sponsorships are mostly the result of habit -- both unconscious routine, and the conscious fear of changing said state of unconsciousness -- as there are lots of invented metrics to measure awareness, eyeballs, brainwaves, or whatever. 

If you want to blow lots of money on something that's almost wholly insulated from having any causal link, or responsibility to, sales, well, there’s probably no more efficient way to go. Bring on the next event!

Most research says that consumers are making brand and purchase decisions these days based on lots of inputs: conversation, third-party affirmation, actual functional benefits, and service/follow-up are probably at the top of the list. Price is, too (to the chagrin of brand purists). Memorable ads, as catalysts to communicate said attributes, fill up the middle of the list. 

Association with a big event is somewhere at the bottom, near celebrity shilling, and viral anything.

So if a big sponsorship has dubious value, what is it worth to interrupt it? It kinda sounds like a victimless crime, or perhaps that proverbial tree falling in a deserted forest.

I'm doing the wave for the creativity behind ambush strategies, and I am attracted to their stick-it-to-the-man, culture-jammer bona fides. But I'm just not sure if they make anybody any money, except the agencies that deliver them.

Oh, and I bet those nudnicks who ripped off their shirts got a free glass of something. Unless they're dim bulbs like I am.

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