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Ambush Marketing: Unethical Trick or Professional Tool? Essay

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Updated: May 27th, 2020


Marketing has been identified to be highly reinforced by advertising. Advertising creates awareness in the market as regards a specific brand. This has been there, ever since the inception of mass media and it has allowed businesses to communicate to a huge share of their target market cheaply. Of the more common methods of advertising is sponsorship, which is the creation or the support of one or more socio-cultural events by a business so as to take advantage of it as a communication platform. Over the years, this has been known to be successful and it has attracted other marketers who have devised ways of cashing in on events that they have nothing to do with. This has come to be recognized as ambush marketing, guerrilla marketing or parasite marketing (Mullin, 2007).

Different authors and marketers have struggled with the question of whether ambush marketing is an unethical trick or a justified professional tool. This question has been raised on the backdrop of the consequences of ambush marketing to the business ambushing the others, and the ones being ambushed. This is because there are both advantages and disadvantages to be reaped from ambush marketing by both parties. This essay seeks to argue that ambush marketing is actually a justified professional tool.

Ambush marketing

Ambush marketing involves the implication by a company that it is an official sponsor of an event by hijacking some aspects of the event that will give the company more audience than the actual official sponsor (Allen, 2010). Ambush marketing has been identified to be fuelled by the high cost of sponsorship especially for huge events that are guaranteed to give the company a huge market audience such as the world cup. While some of the younger companies may be seeking market penetration by strengthening the perception of their brand in the market, they may not actually have access to the resources necessary to achieve this (Burton & Chadwick, 2009). While this may be viewed as wrong there are almost no legal implications in such acts, a fact that has made it so rampant to a point where sponsors to a huge event have had to evaluate their competitors in the market before taking up sponsorship so as to minimize on this. It is actually considered funding or boosting the enemy by providing competitors with a platform to apply their marketing strategies to your actual customers. It gets worse sometimes where the ambush marketing is actually done by more than one firm, which then overshadows the original sponsor completely (Kahle & Riley, 2004). The following are some of the examples of ambush marketing.

Examples of ambush marketing

One example is where Qantas airlines featured two Australian athletes in their advertisements, who were at the time participating in the 2000 Sydney Olympics (Johnson, et al. 2005). They greatly capitalized on the terms Sydney 2000 and Olympics, which gave them quite some popularity especially in the Australian market. Another case is that of Mengniu, a Chinese dairy firm that flooded the market with advertisements featuring athletes during the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The official sponsor of the Olympics at the time was Coca-Cola, who had invested heavily in the sporting event as it is usually an expensive affair. Statistics showed that they were identified by over 30 percent of the public population in China as compared to 40 percent of the public population who identified Coca-Cola (Johnson, 2008). The next section provides arguments presented on ambush marketing.


The examples above show that ambush marketing can actually yield handsome results for a company if it is applied right. In the next section, there is the argument provided by those against ambush marketing.

Argument against ambush marketing

Those who are against ambush marketing view it from the perspective of the company being ambushed. They identify this as pirating of resources from another company while at the same time fixing a value to the amount spent on procuring sponsorship rights (Seguin & O’Reilly, 2008). While this may be disputed by others it is not necessarily untrue since the fact remains that the company sponsoring a particular event, whether corporate or socio-cultural should enjoy the fruits of its investments and efforts. Ambush marketing denies the initial sponsor the outright limelight in the market by hijacking and overshadowing it (Murphy, Lacznia & Laczniak, 2006).

Companies choose to sponsor events with the primary purpose of advertising to a particular market and even though they may be doing so as their corporate social responsibility, the fact still remains that they want to gain some market audience and improve on their brand profile. This is the reason that companies bid to gain major sponsorship deals and end up spending a lot of money in sponsorship as well as organizational fees (Mazodier, 2010). This is, therefore, identified as a major investment under their marketing strategy and their sole aim is that it succeeds in increasing their portfolio of clients while weakening their competitors. Ambush marketing denies them this and goes ahead to give another company all the credit and success of the whole event as a campaign (Quester, 2008). This is even worse when the company engaging in ambush marketing is engaged in the same business as the sponsoring company. The next section introduces the argument provided by supporters of ambush marketing.

Proponents of ambush marketing

Those who identify ambush marketing as a justified professional tool, say that there is nothing unethical or morally wrong with hijacking a sponsor’s limelight. They identify that opportunities in the market are meant to be exploited if they present themselves and a public event is one such opportunity that can be exploited to market the business (Wong, 2010). While a company may have the exclusive rights as sponsor in the particular event premises, it may not hold such rights outside for instance in the mass media. This is viewed as an opportunity by ambush marketers to exploit avenues that the particular sponsor may have created, yet not exploited fully. In as much as the ambush marketer may be seen as hijacking an independent event, the fact remains that if the sponsor would invest enough to exploit all the available marketing avenues, there may be no room for ambush marketing (Pitta, 2008).

The way rights to the sponsorship of a major event like the world cup, are issued are sometimes discriminatory to small firms and more so to the local or regional firms rather than international ones (CCH editors, 2007). This is because the bidding for sponsorship rights involves the investment of huge resources that some firms cannot afford. The policy where only one firm is issued exclusive rights to be the major sponsor is also to blame for the ambush marketing as other firms feel left out and even powerless in such a situation (Scaria, 2008). The solution to this would perhaps be the reservation of some sponsorship opportunities to local firms or offering the sponsorship rights to different companies that are industry specific, which are not in any form of competition with each other. This would reduce the amount of ambush marketing that is usually experienced during major events, but it doesn’t guarantee that there will be no such acts entirely (Ellis, et al. 2010). The next section identifies the opinion of the public sector, which is independent from that of the companies that do the ambushing or the ones being ambushed.

Public opinion on ambush marketing

The public, however, do not hold a strong opinion in regard to the corporate wars that are usually evident in the sponsorship of events. They enjoy the variety of choices presented by the different companies, and do not care whoever wins or loses. This has made lawmakers reluctant to make any stringent laws that would reduce ambush marketing in the market as no one gets hurt in the process (Abela and Murphy, 2008). Even though the companies involved, and more so those ambushed may complain, they are reluctant to push for the formulation of major laws since they also participate in the same acts when they are not in a position to secure ultimate sponsorship rights. While some people may argue that ambush marketing is wrong others may argue that it is not. The problem lies in outlining the particular weight of its advantages versus that of its disadvantages (Arnold, 2010).

Among the proposed remedies to ambush marketing is disclosure where proponents argue that ambush marketers should disclose their intentions to the company being ambushed as well as to the market in general. This has, however, been identified to have potential negative effects. The first is the perception of the market towards the ambusher. Marketing is a game of perception where a company seeks to build a positive perception in the market towards itself (Preussa, Gemeindera and Séguin, 2008). In disclosing that it is an ambusher, consumers may be aware of the potential loses that may be incurred in the vent especially by the official sponsor and, therefore, form a negative perception of the ambushing company (Meenaghan, 1994).

The second is the negative influence that the disclosure may have on the brand. This is more so where the same company is known to be a popular ambusher of many events. This may also lead to market awareness, where previously ignorant customers may start to notice the ambush marketing and shun any association with a particular company’s products (Brenkert, 2008). Since the acceptability of ambush marketing has to be in line with the ethical implications that may result, the next section explores any such ethical issues that are available in this case.

Ethical implications of ambush marketing

One of the ethical aspects that are manifested in ambush marketing is egoism, which dictates that morality coincides with the self-interest of an organization or an individual. In this case, the ambushing company identifies that the achievement of its goals is their moral obligation no matter who they trample upon on the way. The interests of the sponsoring company are not considered when choosing ambush marketing as a major marketing strategy (Farrelly, Quester and Greyser, 2005). Conscience, which is a set of internalized set of moral principles that are taught to us by various authority figures, unfortunately doesn’t apply in the corporate world where those making the major strategic decisions are not the ones who implement them (Robin, 2011).

It is, therefore, almost impossible for those implementing ambush marketing as a strategy not to do so since their job, which demands that they follow the orders of their superiors takes preference over any internalized moral principles that they may hold (Egan, 2007). The principle of prima-facie, which suggests that an obligation can be overridden by a more important obligation, also comes into play in this case. The obligation to achieve organizational goals override any other personal obligations that employees may hold even if they are personal, for as long as they are part of the organization that chooses to adopt ambush marketing (Saucier & Folkers, 2008).

Moral standards do not apply in this case since there is no immediate harmful effect on human beings if a company chooses to adopt ambush marketing. This is mostly used to justify the actions of such marketers since they can always identify the action as just normal business and nothing personal. Ethical relativism also applies in this case, as it dictates that what is right is determined what the particular society or industry says is actually right or wrong. In this case, while some of the companies that are ambushed might identify ambush marketing as an unethical trick they are also open to the opinion of adopting it if they ever find themselves in a position where they really need to advertise to a market that has already been monopolized by one sponsor (Smith, 2008).

The principle of the veil of ignorance suggests that people in their original position know nothing about themselves personally or about what their individual situation will be once the rules are chosen and the veil is lifted. This suggests that a move to disclose ambushing intentions can be avoided without any moral consequences being suffered (Ghani and Tajasom, 2010). This also suggests that the fact that the public population doesn’t know that a particular company is an ambusher, means that no moral obligations are attached to such an ambusher.

The other suggested solution, where organizers may choose to allocate sponsorship rights to many companies, is supported by utilitarianism, which suggests that actions chosen should produce the most pleasure or happiness for the greatest number of people or affected participants.


This essay has identified that the question of whether ambush marketing is an unethical trick or a justified professional tool can be answered by identifying the ethical consequences of such actions. Since there are no personal consequences, industry practices have overtime adopted ambush marketing and adjusted to its effects. This essay has shown that this is evidenced by the fact that companies that have previously complained that this is unethical, have found themselves also adopting it (Lam, 2008). This concludes that it is a justified professional tool that can be applied by anyone in the market.

This essay is, however, limited to the ethical implications of ambush marketing, which makes it inapplicable in situations that warrant the identification of financial or legal implications. It would be, therefore, advisable for future studies to be done on the financial and legal implications of ambush marketing.

Reference List

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Burton, N, and Chadwick, S. 2009. Ambush marketing in sport: An analysis of sponsorship protection means and counter-ambush measures. Journal of Sponsorship. 2(4). Pp 303-315.

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Egan, J. 2007. Marketing communications. Upper Saddle River: Cengage Learning.

Ellis, D. et al. 2010. Framing ambush marketing as a legal issue: An Olympic perspective. Sport Management Review. 14(3). Pp 297-308.

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