World Cup time, and the usual suspects have lined up to part with £20m a shot for the right to slap a logo on some merchandising tat and a load of hoardings.
It sounds like a lot of money, but you never know, it could persuade me to don some fashionable trainers, drink Coke and eat a burger as I photocopy a picture of my closely shaven private parts, whilst listening to high-quality stereo sound and phoning my friends on a state-of-the-art mobile before driving home in a top-of-the-range credit-card-funded Korean motor to open my emails and surf the net (Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Fuji, Xerox, FujiFilm, Gillette, JVC, Toshiba, Mastercard, Hyundai, Adidas, Yahoo).
On the other hand it might not.
Nike and Pepsi have opted for “ambush marketing” instead. This may be a euphemism for “those bastards at Adidas and Coca-Cola got in there first”, but it’s being packaged as a clever ploy to capitalise on the World Cup in a manner more creative than the Pritt-Stick-and-badge approach favoured by their competitors.
The radical concept that is “ambush marketing”, apparently, is to set up some activity that trades off the event and the interest in it, rather than shelling out for direct sponsorship.
Nike is investing in some kind of five-a-side event, as well as putting electronic score displays with instant updates on the sides of buses; Chase de Vere is offering mortgages with interest rates that will drop progressively across the tournament, down to 1% above base rate if England wins (good, cheap stunt – their money is 100% safe); and viral marketeers are cashing in nicely, thank you very much, by persuading naive brand managers that they can out-manoeuvre the big boys by dumping weakly funny footie-themed Mpegs on the web.
Every self-respecting ad for any product ever made in the entire history of the universe has added in a twist of soccer for the sake of selling whatever it is they think the 50% of the country that has some interest in these things might feel like buying after watching another 90 minutes of ball-play.
Personally, I don’t subscribe to much of this.
The big issue is relevance. Whatever the stunt, scam or ad, just because it incorporates components that relate to the World Cup, it’s still a waste of time if it doesn’t relate properly to the backer’s product.
Learn from the dotcom frenzy. We’re back to a taxi wrapped in purple film branded with Yahoo’s name (ah ha! Yahoo! is a type of coloured clingfilm); we’re revisiting Evite’s cupids in nappies on Valentine’s Day (got it! Evite deals in baby care); and we’re in the land where Austin Powers’ Mini-me hands out mini-basketballs in a Bigwords.com-branded orange jumpsuit (obvious! Bigwords.com is a wacky sports retailer).
“Ambush marketing” is as old as the hills. The only thing that’s changed is that more and more people seem to be incapable of understanding the art.
Why was Gail Porter’s naked image projected onto the Houses of Parliament, and what did it do for her career? Is there any point in parking a Mini on top of a billboard? What was David Blaine doing standing on a pole? Back in the 30s, a New York furniture store laid out hundreds of sofas down an entire block outside the store; Goodyear created an enormous 12ft diameter tyre and drove it across America; and Harry Reichenbach whipped up a storm of protest and censorship attempts by artfully bribing street urchins to make lewd comments about a picture displayed in a gallery window just when a moral majority campaigner happened to be walking past, resulting in millions of sales for an aesthetically unremarkable picture of a lady standing naked in a lake entitled September Morn.
These were stunts that were relevant, stimulated interest and shifted products. I can’t see much of the World Cup ballyhoo achieving the same results.
Actually, ballyhoo is the wrong word because it’s PT Barnum’s and in the hands of PT Barnum, “Ballyhoo” was PR that worked.
If anyone’s being ambushed at the moment, it’s the brand managers. Advertisers and marketeers have ambushed their budgets on the back of the World Cup, and are enjoying the kind of success the England team can only ever dream of.
As for the great British public, the Cup offers a rare chance to see – at least for a while – 45 minutes of TV uninterrupted by ads of any sort, plus a number of sideshows for general entertainment, as they go about buying the same stuff they would be buying anyway.
What we need is some really relevant ambush marketing. Given England’s chances, how about a pre-emptive promotion for anti-depressants?