In October this year, retailing brands Big Bazaar, Hyper-City, Star Bazaar, D-Mart, Walmart owned Best Price Modern Wholesale and Big-Basket accused Amazon of‘ ambush marketing’. And in November, Air India launched a couple of ads on Twitter after the IndiGo Airlines incident where the video of ground staff assaulting and manhandling a passenger at Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport went viral. In short, the time-tested advertising strategy — ambush marketing — is back. Used heavily in the 1980s, ambush marketing over the years has evolved and become more sophisticated — from billboards(1960-80)to television (1980-2000) to digital (mostly social platforms, since 2009).
So much so that in some cases, marketers — the targeted brand and its ambusher — often take it sportingly. For instance, in 2011, Jet Airways released a billboard ad in Mumbai stating,’We have changed’. Soon afterwards, Kingfisher upped the game with another billboard (placed right above it),’We made them change!’ Go Air, too, jumped in with its own billboard, claiming, ‘We’ve not changed. We’re still the smartest way to fly’, leaving consumers much entertained.“Ambush marketing can often be a surprisingly effective marketing tactic and I deliberately use the word tactic to separate it from strategy,”Alchemist Brand Consulting’s managing partner Samit Sinha says. Usually when there is a big event that promises a lot of eyeballs, brands opt for ambush marketing. For example, a big-ticket event like the cricket or football world cup or the Olympics usually signs on a host of official sponsors across various product categories. new ad mantra This inevitably means that the competitor or rival misses out on the chance to associate with the event. That is when such rival brands plot various ways of hijacking people’s attention towards them.
But there could be other reasons for ambush marketing too, points out Navonil Chatterjee, chief strategy officer, Rediffusion Y&R, while weighing in instances such as when a brand’s budget is limited and it wants a disproportionate amount of mileage from relatively low spends.“Another situation when brands get an opportunity to employ it is what I call the noose moment—when your competitor has itself put its head on the noose and has asked for it,” he adds, citing the Indigo incident. If not done cleverly, ambush marketing can fall flat, or worse, backfire. Tongue-in-cheek wit is what often helps an ambush marketing campaign work and not appear merely opportunistic.