Ambushing / Branding / Marketing / Social Media

World Cup Watching

World Cup online trolling trumps traditional ambushing tactics

Professor Simon Chadwick

Posted: June 19, 2018

It is twelve years since thousands of Dutch football fans inadvertently perpetrated one of football’s most striking ambushes.

Following a promotion by Dutch beer brand Bavaria, many of the fans turned-up at the Netherlands’ first game of the 2006 World Cup wearing orange lederhosen that carried the beer brand’s name. As Bavaria had no legal right of association with the tournament, fans were told that they must either remove the garment or else be denied access to the venue.

The outcome was that numerous fans watched the match in their underwear as, not wanting to miss their country’s opening fixture and without anything else to wear, they choose to take their clothes-off and watch. Inevitably, there was an international furore about this; the media gleefully jumped on the story; and for the remainder of the tournament most people therefore stopped talking about the official beer sponsor, Budweiser.

Bavaria’s ambush worked so well that the brand deliberately came back for more four years later, at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. The ‘Bavaria Girls’, who entered a stadium wearing Danish national costume (the Netherlands was playing Denmark in their first game), eventually undressed halfway through the match (to reveal orange Bavaria-branded dresses), inevitably drawing attention from both the crowd and the world’s media.

The incident had profound consequences; it actually became a diplomatic incident that required the intervention of Dutch government.

Bavaria’s ambushing antics were abruptly truncated, the company having had to agree with FIFA that it would not engage in such activities again on order to secure the release from custody of several ‘Girls’ who had been detained by South African authorities.

Even so, other brands have continued to engage in ambush, which has been defined as “The incursive, obtrusive or associative activities of a brand intended to yield a range of benefits similar or comparable to those typically achieved by brands that have a formal, contractual sponsorship agreement with an event.”

However, in the period since 2010 social media has emerged and is now, in many cases, the first point of engagement for fans, customers and, apparently, what used to be called ambushers. Indeed, although observers remain vigilant to the possibility of ambushing (most notably in the way that FIFA’s assets may be appropriated by parties with no legal right of association), online trolling has seemingly become a preferred means of distraction or association.

Hence, during this World Cup we have yet to see any of the epic, headline grabbing ambushes of previous tournaments. Instead, endless threads on social media are being created by companies and brands seeking to capitalise upon the marketing opportunities that such events generate. An argument could be that trolling has in fact killed ambushing.

A particularly notable exponent of trolling has been Britain’s Iceland, a frozen food supermarket chain. The brand previously engaged in online hi-jinks during UEFA Euro 2016, but has now returned once more during the World Cup. Indeed, a cursory glance at Iceland’s Twitter timeline reveals a constant flow of witty, mischievous and sometimes provocative content that is no doubt intended to distract, draw attention and drive traffic via its online platforms. Oh, and perhaps it influences people to buy frozen food too.

Iceland’s social media accounts are lively, dynamic affairs that constantly change to reflect the latest events taking place in Russia. This suggests the right people are in place inside the company’s social media team; individuals with a quick wit, a clear understanding of social media, a keen sense of strategy and tactics, and an awareness of appropriate legalities.

They are waging a war – which Iceland labels as ‘banter’ – that is ambushing ambushing. Indeed, much like some current military conflicts, which are increasingly being fought-out online, the likes of Iceland are moving the commercial battles of incursion, obtrusion or association away from face-to-face confrontation.



About Professor Simon Chadwick

Simon is Professor of Sports Enterprise at Salford University in Manchester (UK), where he is also a Co-Director of the Centre for Sports Business. He is also a Founding Co-Director of the China Soccer Observatory and a Senior Fellow of the China Policy Institute at the University of Nottingham (UK). He has worked in football across the world, for various organisations including companies, federations, and governments. He tweets via @Prof_Chadwick