Counter-Strategies to Fight Ambush Marketing: Does Humour Help?

Samandeep Chohan

Makis Karteros

Posted: September 21, 2014

In the contemporary world ambush marketing has blossomed. As academics and industrial experts we all have a mutual respect for some of the creativity organisations deploy when ambushing. It’s in our genetics; we seem to have a slight giggle and a smile; even if it’s classed as unethical. Sebastian Uhrich and Joerg Koenigstorfer conducted a theoretical study concerning counter-strategies when fighting ambushing.

When countering ‘ambushing’ you have two categories, take legal action or what we have all find useful, ‘counter-communicate’. Legal action can be classed as a very formal procedure, focusing on suing the ambusher and monitoring on-site. However, this takes up time, and from the much paraphrased quote – “time equals money”. On the other hand counter-communication is a fairly new strategy. It revolves around an informal way of approaching ambushers. For example, ‘Name and shame’ may help establish and strengthen a link between ambusher and the event (mainly cognitive) and ‘humour’ (which is what the researchers propose) affiliates a reaction from all parties. It’s seen as a confident and believable strategy.

We have seen numerous cases of ambushing, but an iconic case presented was new to me personally. It was between sports drink firms Gatorade and Powerade. After Basketball star LeBron James cramped up in the fourth quarter, Gatorade tweeted a user;

The person cramping wasn’t our client. Our athletes can take the heat” – @Gatorade

Going on to mock Powerade;

We were waiting on the sidelines, but he prefers to drink something else” – @Gatorade

Without wanting to be outdone, Powerade hit back tweeting;

There is strength in the silence. The best response is made on the court @KingJames. #powerthrough” – @POWERADE

Identifying how effective humour is as a strategic ploy through marketing can be difficult. Uhrich and Koenigstorfer propose the concept of having ‘research goals’;

  1. Attitude towards sponsor?
  2. Attitude towards the ambusher
  3. Recipients’ tendency to counter-argue?

Their plan was to find two sets of audiences and examine how the three properties mentioned above warrant a response (experiment was conducted over Durex’s ambush at a golfing tournament). Four pathways were highlighted;

  1. Ambusher Ad
  2. Measurement of reaction to ambusher ad
  3. Official sponsor counter-ad
  4. Measurement of model variables

The first study offered two areas; name & shame and humour, whereas the second study also offered ‘education’ (educating the public on official sponsor and ambusher). Results were conclusive. Study one revealed name & shame to be the most productive when counter-arguing (83.3%) and humour being the tool to use when not counter arguing (71.4%). Study two, with the added category of ‘education’ again produced lopsided results. Name & shame and humour produced the same results as its study one counterparts, with education favouring the counter-argument category (60.4%).

What does this mean?

With the hard data there to be seen, it signifies humour as a potent strategic tool when fighting ambushers. It increases attitude towards the sponsors advert but also increases awareness for ambushers. Examples are readily available. Look no further than the one mentioned above. Academics may say both parties profited. Everyone wanted to see what the reply was. As much as it was an ambush, it turned into a relationship.

As marketing strategies evolve, there will always be intense competition from official and non-official sponsors; we all want a piece of the pie. Furthermore, the like of social media has paved a way for new and improved innovative marketing ploys. It enables us as users to perceive and inherit a tweet, post or video with a click of a button.

Recommendations for sponsors

Depending on sponsorship goals, Uhrich and Koenigstorfer recommend sponsors to position their brand by using peripheral cues (humour). It’s instinctive for us to associate a better experience with humour. In addition, the researchers also look at harming the ambusher by questioning their particular business practices/ethics (name & shame). Also recommended, but may be classed as boring is the idea of informing consumers of ambushers (education).

Providing access to a targeted audience is a key benefit of sponsorship. Nevertheless, from the rights holder perspective there is really nothing we can do to prevent a savvy company from creating and installing an ambush campaign. But what can be done is a step-by-step initiative to prevent their branding being seen. Using humour is primarily a new concept. From what I know and have seen, humour is very much an on-the-spot characteristic. But as in all walks of life we want to be the best we can be and if that means using humour as a strategy to combatting ambushing, then so be it. We cannot argue with conclusive results.

About Samandeep Chohan

Samandeep is a recent Sport Management graduate at Coventry University who is seeking employment in the world of sport. He has worked in the ticketing and sales department for Coventry City Football Club, organised and coached sporting events and written for sporting blogs from the age of 16. Samandeep’s email address –

About Makis Karteros

Makis is currently writing a PhD on investment in human capital and its impact on football club’s performance.  He has been involved in the sports industry in many ways having worked for professional football clubs, media organisations and IT companies, in Greece and India.