Official sponsors and partners of major sporting events receive exclusivity, not just of branding, but of brand experience. Other brands keep away – you are not allowed anywhere near.
In reality, brands are leaping at the opportunity to stand out at such high-profile events, and ambushing techniques are increasingly clever and entertaining. One of the most famous examples occurred during the 2012 Euro Championship when Denmark´s Nicklas Bendtner scored against Portugal. To “celebrate,” he displayed his underpants, revealing Paddy Power branding. While UEFA fined Bendtner more than $100,000 for this sponsorship violation, unsurprisingly, this created huge attention for both him and the brand, capturing the attention of cameras and social media in seconds.
But we can look at the concept of the ambush another way. Cristiano Ronaldo draws out the more risqué aspects of his behaviour in pursuit of unexpected emotional responses. Playing on his prima donna, spoilt reputation, a key element of the launch of his underwear collection was an enormous advertisement in the busiest spot in Madrid. Ronaldo understood his brand DNA as he posed in the centre of the city, a model poster boy in tight underwear.
But Ronaldo doesn’t rely solely on advertising. He understands what his audience wants, knows what he can do best on and off the pitch and is continually making news by immediately turning what could be perceived as negative into his own brand positive. Aligning with the “ambush” approach, he does what he needs to for his sponsors and his own brand, yet he is also spontaneous, using the latest story for the benefit of raising his own brand profile. We saw this last October when FIFA´s Sepp Blatter referred to Ronaldo as “Commander” during an address at Oxford University. When Ronaldo scored in his next game, he impersonated a soldier saluting, playing up to Blatter’s mockery. Interestingly, at January’s Ballon d’Or ceremony, Ronaldo pointed out that the dispute was over as he emotionally received the Player of the Year award. Ronaldo has moved on.
Moving ahead to the 2014 World Cup, how can brands score the winning, stand-out goals? Take a tip from Ronaldo: Know and play to your strengths, whatever they may be, and stay true to your brand every second of the day.