Social media marketers, beware the ides of March Madness. Ambush marketing, or the practice of existing on the social fringes of culturally significant events and leveraging their media attention, caught the ire of the NCAA during the leadup to its annual March Madness college tournament.
The phenomenon is best explained by Frank Reed, of MarketingPilgrim.com, who recently wrote, “Gone are the days where a marketer had to consider dropping millions of dollars on event sponsorship to be tied to the event. Now if a company wants to do that they still can and there will be benefits (at least in theory). But now enter the age of ‘ambush marketing’. Why spend millions when you can live on the social fringes and leech some exposure for mere pennies on the sponsorship dollar?”
The strategy isn’t all that risky in terms of trademark infringement, explains Reed, because “marketers are simply going to avoid trademark issues and refer to the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament in ways that everyone will understand but won’t require actually saying “March Madness” or something else that would make the rule happy NCAA come knocking at a marketer’s door louder than a ref’s whistle.”
USA Today also covered the story, writing, “Such familiar brands as Pizza Hut, Hormel’s Spam and even the Hooters chain are trying to link with the social and cultural buzz of the tournament – but are carefully stepping around any legal issues by avoiding the use of trademarked terms such as “March Madness” or “Final Four” in their marketing.”
What makes this year’s tournament significant isn’t the amount of people involved in ambush marketing, but the size of the marketer’s involved, and how the ROI equations are changing. This is one story that every social media marketing professional will want to watch closely.
What tactics have you ever used to gain attention from a well-known event, and how do you feel about the term ‘ambush marketing’?
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