Has Bavaria’s ambush marketing backfired or is FIFA pursuing diminished returns?

It was announced last week that FIFA is to file a civil case against Bavaria, the brewer behind the now famous ambush marketing activity at the World Cup, as well as filing potentially very serious criminal charges against two Dutch women who are alleged to have organised the stunt.

Clearly commercial sponsorship should be taken seriously. A lot of time, effort and money goes into these agreements, 35% of the budget of an event like the World Cup can be made up with sponsors’ cash, and FIFA absolutely has a right to protect its own revenues and the investment of its offical event partners.

However, and this is what makes it so fascinating from a PR perspective, obviously FIFA are risking negative publicity for being too draconian – we now have two women who have a jail term hanging over their heads for wearing  orange dresses at a Holland match. But also, the greater the vehemence with which they complain, the greater the value of the stunt itself as it will only create more coverage. So the more FIFA try to discourage ambush marketing, the more they encourage it.

What will ‘the man on the street’ think about the above image?

One thing that must also be considered by FIFA’s PRs is the nuances of the situation. Ambush marketing, (other examples being Linford Christie’s Puma branded contact lenses at an Adidas sponsored pess conference, or cans of Pepsi being handed out by attractive women on rollerskates outside a Coca-Cola branded stadium) is more likely than other activity to appeal to the general public. It’s creative, generally amusing, and more often than not, a little bit clever and a little bit fun, and can be seen as contributing to the celebratory occasion.

FIFA must proceed with caution. It will be all too easy to see things from their sponsors’ perpective alone, with Budweiser certain to be calculating the financial value of another beer brand getting five seconds of abstract airtime. But from the PR perspective it’s about considering the impact on the public consciousness in the real world.

In fact, had FIFA kept their response a little further behind the scenes,  the cameras may have merely lingered on the group of striking Dutch supporters before moving on and the vast, vast majority of the watching public would have been none the wiser.

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