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Ambush Marketing – Rugby World Cup 2011

September 13, 2011

Rugby World Cup 2011 has kicked off in Auckland.  Spectator eyes may be on the pitch but savvy companies willing to sail close to the wind of advertising and intellectual property laws are gearing up to make their mark, attempting to promote their products/services in full view of the cameras and spectators, without having to pay substantial fees for the necessary rights.

Businesses willing to pay sponsorship fees to Rugby World Cup Limited are granted an element of exclusivity in advertising their brands i.e. there will be one major drinks sponsor, one major food sponsor, one major shoe sponsor etc. at the events.  Some companies without such access sometimes resort to more creative methods of product placement.  Many will recall the stunt carried out by the drinks company Bavaria at a Dutch football game at the World Cup in South Africa last summer, which resulted in 36 orange-clad women being ejected from the stadium.  In that case Budweiser was the official beer of the tournament.  There have been many other examples of ambush marketing at big sporting events in recent years (see our other articles on this topic).

Ambush marketers tend to be well informed and their campaigns rarely infringe a third party’s intellectual property rights but they may breach the local laws specifically enacted to protect the advertising interests of the sponsors.  The host nation in this case anticipated the issue and enacted the Major Events Management Act 2007. Examples of prohibited acts are the use by an unauthorised entity of any of the terms “Rugby World Cup”, “World Cup 2011”, “RWC”, “Web Ellis Cup” and “IRB” in its advertising or promotional material.  Companies falling foul of this law risk heavy fines.

This legislation also outlaws non-official sponsor related advertising in the environs of the stadiums.  Clean zones will exist on the motorways and railway lines leading to the stadiums but will be limited to specified time periods.

There has been at least one prosecution under the Major Events Management Act 2007 so far but no company has managed to garner the level of interest of Bavaria at World Cup 2010 or, indeed, Paddy Power at last year’s Ryder Cup.  Watch this space…

Contributed by Brian McElligot and David Cullen.