Michael Johnson's golden spikes drew more attention than his gold medal performance in the 400-meter sprint during the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. Everyone has been taken aback by Nike's approach. This incident became so well-known that Michael Johnson earned the moniker "The Man With Golden Shoes."

Brands engage in promotional activities to associate its products with an event over which it has no sponsorship rights. They apply this technique called ‘ambush marketing’ in their marketing strategy to “ambush” their rivals and gain popularity. Nike used ambush marketing to seize the spotlight.

What Is Ambush Marketing?

Jerry Welsh, a marketing guru who coined the term "ambush marketing" in 1920, formally defines it as a method in which brands profit from the PR value of events without contributing any funds to the event through sponsorship.

Brands use wordplay, ads, billboards, and other creative tactics to ambush their competitors and advertise their products under the guise of sponsors.

Is Ambush Marketing Ethical?

Some marketers question the ethics behind ambush marketing. The concept of pushing advertisements on the back of events without any investment makes marketers think so.

Ambush marketing, when done incorrectly, can harm firms more than it helps them. Infringing on the sponsor's trademarks and copyrights may result in the brand being penalized.

However, when utilized ethically, ambush marketing can help you boost your marketing efforts, win your customers' hearts, and increase your revenues.

Advantages Of Ambush Marketing

Ambush marketing is a low-cost, high-impact marketing tactic. It's a brilliant way for small businesses to promote their products at major events like the Olympics and Super Bowl as it requires little to no money.

Ambush marketing helps brands build brand equity by allowing them to be more innovative with their marketing strategies.

It increases rivalry among enterprises vying for market share, which is beneficial to customers because prices will drop due to increased competition.

Brand Wars On The Side Lines Of Ambush Marketing

Big brands have had considerable success with ambush marketing in their branding. Here are some real-life examples of ambush marketing that allowed brands to be more creative and gain a competitive advantage.

1. BMW & Audi - Word War On Billboards

In 2009, luxury car manufacturers, BMW and Audi competed for billboard supremacy in Santa Monica, California. 

The feud started when BMW held a rally in Wisconsin and advertised the slogan "A BMW rally with two local service stations. What's next, a chess tournament with paramedics?" at the 35th MOA Event.

Audi took advantage of the current BMW push to promote itself. It bought a billboard in Santa Monica that showed off its new A4 sedan and mocked BMW's slogan:

Audi didn't come to a halt here. And, to provoke BMW, it came up with another catchphrase.

BMW did not take Audi's provocation lightly this time. It bought a billboard across the street from the Audi's with a counter-promotional slogan:

This tit for tact game also cost the car behemoths billboard space. Both carmakers, however, attracted the attention of their customers, who took sides in the billboard fight by photoshopping and captioning the billboards.

2. Rona Paints In The Light Of The Apple

Rona, a Canadian distributor of home renovations, devised a clever ambush marketing campaign in 2010. It chose Apple's new iPod Nano billboard in Montreal for its paint recycling program.

The billboard depicted eight iPods, each in a different color, with paint falling off of them.

Under Apple's iPod Nano billboard, Rona hung a billboard. They used Apple's precise colors dripping into paint buckets, along with a tagline that read, "We recycle leftover paint."

The billboard setting is very eye-catching and applaudable, and Rona's billboard supported its campaign's message of recycling paint.

3. Pepsi Vs Coca Cola - Fierce Rivalry

Since the dawn of time, Coca-Cola and Pepsi have been at odds. Multinational beverage firms are always in competition with one another, and they freely admit it.

Coca-Cola spent $400 million on marketing as an Olympic sponsor in 2008. Pepsi, however, stole the show and deceived everyone into thinking it was the actual sponsor of the big event, owing to ambush marketing.

Pepsi hosted Michael Jackson's world tour in 1993. Due to dehydration, the late pop legend had to postpone a concert in Bangkok.

Coca-Cola capitalized on the crisis and ran a campaign with the headline "Dehydrated?...  There's always Coke" Thailand's leading newspapers, the Bangkok Post and the Nation.

There are numerous cases of Pepsi and Coca-Cola crashing one other's marketing efforts and employing ambush marketing techniques.

4. Li Ning Torch Glow, Steals Adidas Show

Li Ning's ambush of Adidas during the Beijing Olympics' big event has been dubbed the "ultimate ambush marketing application" by marketing experts.

This is how it went down. With a budget of $200 million, Adidas was the official sportswear brand during the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.

Li Ning, a Chinese sportswear brand, ambushed Adidas, the key Olympic sponsor.

The company's founder, Li Ning, was China's most honored Olympian and a national hero. He became the first Chinese gymnast to win an Olympic medal.

The company's namesake, Li Ning, was raised 75 feet into the air and encircled the top of the Bird's Nest stadium during the opening ceremony, igniting the Olympic cauldron. 

People assumed Li Ning was wearing his brand, even though he was clothed in Adidas. The Li Ning logo is reminiscent of Nike's swoosh, while the phrase is comparable to Adidas' "everything is possible." Li Ning was the star of the show, with its Hong Kong shares jumping 3.4 percent.

5. Nike - Master At The Art Of Ambush Marketing

Nike, a global footwear company, has perfected the art of ambush marketing, having ambushed virtually every footwear brand imaginable.

The 1984 Summer Olympics had Converse as an official sponsor. Nike took advantage of the opportunity by displaying massive murals picturing athletes competing in the game while wearing Nike gear. Nike was able to secure the title of an official sponsor.

In 1996, Umbro paid hundreds of millions of pounds to be the official host of the UEFA European Championship, only to be outbid by Nike, which purchased virtually all of the banner space and advertising positions in and around England's national stadium.