FIFA World Cup 2018 and Ambush Marketing

The FIFA World Cup is here, and almost every country has their eyes fixed on the spectacle taking place in Russia. While what happens on the field always take precedence, as each player lays their hopes, dreams and years of practice on the line, behind the cameras and off the pitch lies a whole world of movement as complex as any match.

The term “Ambush Marketing” is probably foreign to many of us, yet this term has been making the rounds for a long time and especially with the FIFA World Cup. INTA (International Trademark Association) recently issued a warning for the fans and other stakeholders against such unscrupulous practices.

The main web-page of FIFA informs fans that:

“Ambush marketing can be defined as prohibited marketing activities which try to take advantage of the huge interest and high profile of an event by creating a commercial association and/or seeking promotional exposure without the authorisation of the event organiser. Such prohibited marketing activities can be of a direct or indirect nature.

A direct association is established when a brand tries to link itself directly to the event, be it through advertising or promotions such as ticket giveaways, use of the tournament designations, etc…

An indirect association aims to achieve an association with the event without making a direct link, often implementing creative campaigns aimed at achieving a link to the event.

Marketing activities by non-sponsor companies that seek to take advantage of the huge public interest in the event through physical on-site presence can also be categorised as prohibited. The common denominator of such prohibited marketing activities is that they primarily seek free advertising.”

There are different types of Ambush Marketing like Ambush by intrusion (for e.g. Bavaria Beer, 2010 World Cup), Ambush by association (for e.g. Paddy Power, giving away ‘free lions’ t-shirts or Nike’s ‘Find Your Greatness’ campaign during the London 2012 Olympics) and Opportunistic advertising (for e.g. OREO’s Tweet during a black out at the Super Bowl in 2013)

In its Media and Marketing Regulations for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, FIFA states that, without its authorisation, no third party:

“may do anything which gives rise to any association between such third party and the competition… or directly or indirectly exploits the goodwill associated with the Competition.”

FIFA licenses its intellectual property rights to its official sponsors who uses those IP rights as their marketing tool to promote the tournament. Ambush Marketing depreciate the exclusivity of FIFA’s original and official marks which are reserved for the sponsors who pay for it.

Thus, to protect itself from such illegal practices, this year FIFA has employed numerous policies in an attempt to curb any such unscrupulous activities, including a two-kilometre exclusion zones around each World Cup venue, with only official sponsors being able to advertise, sell or distribute their products. FIFA’s intellectual property guidelines are created for the general public to give guidance on what is and is not deemed acceptable. The guidelines also helpfully set out the Commercial Affiliates linked with the event. FIFA’s enactment of Commercial Restriction Areas (CRAs) around the stadiums that host matches of the FIFA World Cup and other official sites would provide additional legal protection to the legitimate licensees against prohibited marketing activities around the stadium and other areas.

FIFA has registered over 90 marks in Russia. Its Media and Marketing Regulations 2018 lists its present trademarks, which of course include word marks such as “FIFA World Cup” but also include the FIFA World Cup Trophy, the official mascot and the host city posters. This increased protection limits the types of marks and designs that brands who are not associated could use as they try and establish a connection with the World Cup.

FIFA has also driven an extensive awareness program to inform the general public about these activities, to make aware the business societies and other potential sponsors of the possibility of duping by the non-sponsors or the consequence of facing legal action for commission of ambush marketing.