THE BLOG
06/11/2013 06:04 GMT | Updated 23/01/2014 18:58 GMT

Guerrilla Marketing - Where It Is Now

With London 2012 slowly receding into the past, and the next wave of global sporting events such as the 2014 World Cup in Brazil and the Glasgow Commonwealth Games imminent, it's time to consider the state of ambush, or guerrilla, marketing in the sports world.

There's no doubt the threat of these aggressive marketing tactics loomed ominously over those involved in London 2012, but the Olympics also formed a landmark in the way that guerrilla marketing was managed for major global events.

First, let's look at what exactly guerrilla marketing is - and why it happens.

There are two kinds of guerrilla marketing. The first comes from smaller, occasionally controversial brands with comparatively small budgets trying to afford some of the glory of the bigger players. Think Paddy Power. It's possible to appreciate the endeavours of these brands, if they operate within appropriate boundaries and don't try to pass themselves off as official sponsors.

Then there are the major global brands, where there are just two competitors in any given market. Both will be competing for the same audience, but only one is able to command the official partner or sponsor status - think Coke/Pepsi, Nike/adidas etc.

In these cases, the non-sponsor brand won't want to lose ground to their rival but still capitalise on the event's feel good factor - without going beyond their unofficial status.

There is a third element to consider in guerrilla marketing - when brand activities cross the line from association into endorsement, and non-sponsors try to pass themselves off as having official status. Brand owners, sponsorship teams and event organisers fear this most.

This was the biggest concern of the Olympics. Entry prices for major global events are such that sponsorship can be the central pillar of a brand's global marketing activity and the climax of several years' work. As a result, protection of that investment (access, use of official assets and rights, the Olympic rings being amongst the most prized), has become the sponsors' greatest obsession, and a kind of creative and strategic utopia for non-sponsors to wrestle with.

The phrase 'guerrilla marketing' conjures images of war tactics, and it's no surprise that the practice has a somewhat murky history - most recognisably associated with Nike's war of attrition over nearly 30 years.

Nike's campaign for the 1996 Atlanta Olympics was a pinnacle of the genre. Having taken all ad sites around the city, Nike built an enormous, visually commanding 'village' opposite locations created by official sponsor, adidas. Indeed, this sort of activity has frequently given Nike misappropriated sponsorship recognition levels comparable to official sponsors.

London 2012 was a turning point in the history of guerrilla marketing. The ambush tactics of previous World Cups and Olympics had been widely criticised - but despite the furore and hundreds of column inches on ambush potential before the Games began, once the event was underway, the subject almost dropped from sight altogether.

There were no publicised arrests; no-one attempted to forcibly remove the Olympic Breakfast from the Little Chef menu... There were some flashpoints, such as Paddy Power's 'London' Sports Event (which took place in London, France), but LOCOG meekly attempted to have billboards promoting it be removed, before backing down.

Overall London 2012 received well-deserved praise for its stance on guerrilla marketing - and has left a legacy in place for future events in the protection of official rights holders. A LOCOG spokesperson said: "Our approach to enforcing the 2006 Act has always been sensible, pragmatic and proportionate. We have to protect the rights of our sponsors, who have paid for exclusive associations with the Games in their sponsorship categories. We are tough on commercial abuse, but we don't want to do anything to dampen genuine enthusiasm and excitement about the Games."

Note that final point - LOCOG's recognition that as long as lines are toed (and protecting sponsor rights must always come first) - then an element of guerrilla activity can further heighten anticipation.

So what next for guerrilla marketing? What can we expect in Brazil and Glasgow next year?

One thing is certain: as the cost of holding big ticket events such as the Olympics and World Cup continues to grow; sponsor presence will continue. Where there are sponsors, there are brands that want a slice of the action. 2012 was a watershed moment - brands using guerrilla marketing avoided the backstreet tactics and earned a little more respect for remaining on the right side of the line.

Guerrilla marketing is here to stay. But the boundaries have been drawn in a truce that leaves both parties in no doubt about the rules. Let's hope they continue to play by them.