Newcastle Crashes The Super Bowl Again, But Is Ambush Marketing A Good Strategy?

While ambush mar­ket­ing rais­es some legal con­sid­er­a­tions, it can help rein­force brand ethos while also poten­tial­ly con­nect­ing with new audi­ences.

Lisa Lacy By Lisa Lacy. Join the discussion » 0 comments

After releas­ing a faux entry into Dori­tos’ Crash the Super Bowl con­test, New­cas­tle Brown Ale, which describes itself as scrap­py and punch­ing above its weight class, is extend­ing its No Bol­locks nar­ra­tive to an ambush cam­paign of sorts ask­ing small brands to pool their resources for a Super Bowl spot. This effort nice­ly illus­trates how ambush mar­ket­ing has changed over the years. As it stands, ambush mar­ket­ing has become much more of a delib­er­ate strat­e­gy and includes more clever cam­paigns. And while it does raise some legal con­sid­er­a­tions, ambush mar­ket­ing can help rein­force brand ethos while also poten­tial­ly con­nect­ing with new audi­ences.

New­cas­tle Brown Ale has said it is in no posi­tion to spend $4.5 mil­lion on 30 sec­onds of air time dur­ing a foot­ball game, so it launched “Band of Brands,” or what it calls “the first-ever crowd­fund­ed Big Game ad” for the Super Bowl.

It’s a good exam­ple of a brand cap­i­tal­iz­ing upon a big event with­out shelling out big bucks to par­tic­i­pate via offi­cial chan­nels. It’s also a good exam­ple of a more cre­ative attempt at so-called ambush mar­ket­ing as the art of the ambush evolves from mere­ly try­ing to get pub­lic­i­ty at an event to an actu­al cam­paign strat­e­gy.

Banding Together

In exchange for what New­cas­tle calls “a small con­tri­bu­tion,” it says any brand can join its team and “have its logo and mes­sag­ing fea­tured in an actu­al Big Game spot.”

The brand announced Band of Brands after anoth­er ambush effort of sorts in which it post­ed a mock entry to Dori­tos’ Crash the Super Bowl con­test, the Frito-Lay brand’s annu­al call for con­sumer-gen­er­at­ed TV spots, or what New­cas­tle calls its “Unof­fi­cial Snack Chip Con­test Sub­mis­sion.”

Pro­mo­tion for Band of Brands also includes a video star­ring actress Aubrey Plaza. New­cas­tle says Plaza will star in two videos “aimed at draw­ing com­pa­nies to the Band of Brands project and teas­ing the final Band of Brands commercial’s debut.”

Nick Maschmey­er, strate­gist at adver­tis­ing agency Droga5, said this is the “first stage of the cam­paign,” in which the brand “[uses] celebri­ty tal­ent to get the video in front of peo­ple and get them talk­ing about it and get oth­er brands sub­mit­ting to be part of the ad…[and] once we sort of solid­i­fy tour team and get every­thing in place, we will shoot the mega ad,” which he says, “will be on TV dur­ing the game, but don’t exact­ly know where or when.”

Maschmey­er said the brand will broad­cast a 30-sec­ond spot, but will release a longer-form spot online as well.

Per a press release, inter­est­ed brands can sub­mit pro­pos­als on the Band of Brands web­site through Jan­u­ary 19 with the only qual­i­fi­ca­tion being that the brands are “sim­i­lar to New­cas­tle in spir­it and tone and sense of humor,” Maschmey­er said. (How­ev­er, New­cas­tle will remain “the exclu­sive beer brand of Band of Brands,” he said.)

Accord­ing to Maschmey­er, New­cas­tle has had “a few bites already” and the brand “[hopes] to take on more,” but he would not dis­close how many brands are involved, say­ing once they have been vet­ted through Newcastle’s legal depart­ment, the brand will announce part­ners as they roll in.

As of Jan­u­ary 19, New­cas­tle has announced five brands in its Big Game Band: snack brand Bean­i­tos, Arm­strong Floor­ing, McClure’s Pick­les, con­sumer elec­tron­ics and gift prod­uct brand Sharp­er Image and pre­paid wire­less ser­vice Boost Mobile.

We’ll take as many as we can cram into a sin­gle ad with­out it being too over­whelm­ing,” Maschmey­er said. “The more we get, the bet­ter, as it helps defray costs.”

The brands will be fea­tured in dif­fer­ent ways, but Maschmey­er notes the team “[hasn’t] quite fig­ured it out yet.”

Band of Brands fol­lows Newcastle’s 2014 Super Bowl suc­cess with its If We Made It video, which Maschmey­er said was “essen­tial­ly an attempt to hijack the Big Game con­ver­sa­tion with a cam­paign about how epic our Big Game com­mer­cial would have been if we had made it.”

The video gar­nered about 740,000 views.

So that was a lit­tle bit tongue in cheek, pok­ing fun at the pro­hib­i­tive­ly expen­sive nature of a 30-sec­ond spot in the Big Game and us real­iz­ing that we didn’t nec­es­sar­i­ly have the mon­ey for the spot, but we would be a great con­tender to make an epic Big Game spot if we had made one,” Maschmey­er said.

This year is about work­ing with­in the Big Game sys­tem “that rewards the behav­ior of pay­ing $4 mil­lion and see­ing if we could find a way to get in with­out hav­ing to pay that mon­ey, which we still don’t have,” Maschmey­er said.

That’s why the brand first tried to crash Dori­tos’ Crash the Super Bowl effort. (Maschmey­er said New­cas­tle “broke about 15” of the con­test rules so Dori­tos was “not able to con­sid­er [its entry] offi­cial­ly.”)

And New­cas­tle isn’t alone in attempt­ing to steal a bit of Dori­tos’ thun­der with some ambush tac­tics., which calls itself “a move­ment of con­sumers, work­ers and share­hold­ers speak­ing with one voice to coun­ter­bal­ance the grow­ing pow­er of large cor­po­ra­tions,” released a sim­i­lar mock entry video, A Cheesy Love Sto­ry, to draw atten­tion to rain for­est destruc­tion. As of Jan­u­ary 16, the video has about 970,000 views on YouTube, but the orga­ni­za­tion said it had more than 1.5 mil­lion views in the first 48 hours on Face­book.

Maschmey­er said New­cas­tle was also inspired by recent trends in crowd­fund­ing and the shared econ­o­my.

We don’t have $4 mil­lion and lord knows most brands are the same, but we all have some mar­ket­ing bud­get,” he said. “Let’s get togeth­er and pool our resources and cre­ate an ad that fea­tures us all togeth­er with­out hav­ing to pay the $4 mil­lion.”

Band of Brands, he said, “essen­tial­ly democ­ra­tizes Big Game adver­tis­ing for small, scrap­py brands that don’t get to be heard every year dur­ing the Big Game. It’s a nice idea that the lit­tle guys can be heard above the peren­ni­al adver­tis­ers that you see every year that have the deep pock­ets to afford Big Game air time. We like that a lit­tle bit of inge­nu­ity and team­work can get you to the same place.”

It’s also a strat­e­gy that fits nice­ly with­in the brand’s long-run­ning “No Bol­locks” nar­ra­tive, which, per the release, “takes a light­heart­ed, no-non­sense, hon­est approach to mar­ket­ing by shin­ing a light on the sil­ly, stale and some­times decep­tive clichés often found in beer adver­tis­ing.”

Anoth­er good exam­ple of the brand’s No Bol­locks phi­los­o­phy was a 2014 cam­paign to pay Twit­ter users $1 to fol­low it.

Our cre­ative plat­form is real­ly about sort of tak­ing the piss out of mar­ket­ing and cheap gim­micks and sales tac­tics. The only thing we’re seri­ous about is beer. Every­thing else is a lit­tle more light­heart­ed,” Maschmey­er said. “We don’t mind mak­ing fun of our­selves. ‘No Bol­locks’ direct­ly call out the cheap gim­micks and clichés of mar­ket­ing in gen­er­al, or we do the exact same thing that the oth­er mar­keters and brands are doing, but exag­ger­ate them to their log­i­cal extreme to point out the bol­locks of their mar­ket­ing and com­mu­ni­ca­tions.”

And the tim­ing is good for anoth­er iter­a­tion.

The Big Game felt real­ly, real­ly right for us – basi­cal­ly it’s marketing’s birth­day and the one day of year when Amer­i­cans are seek­ing out ads,” Maschmey­er said. “The con­text of us to be play­ing in [a space where con­sumers are] seek­ing out ads feels like a nice oppor­tu­ni­ty for New­cas­tle to get our voice in there and be able to com­ment on the hype around the ads going on at that time.”

While the New­cas­tle tar­get is typ­i­cal­ly men 25 to 39 who are pre­mi­um beer drinkers, Maschmey­er said, “What we real­ly like about the poten­tial for part­ner­ing with all of these brands is reach­ing lots of new audi­ences. I’m not going to use ‘syn­er­gy,’ but the abil­i­ty for oth­er brands to lever­age our con­tent on their own channels…and get our con­tent in front of new people…[is more] sub­stan­tial than if we were doing it by our­selves.”

For his part, Daniel DiGriz, pres­i­dent of dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing strat­e­gy firm Mad­Pipe, notes ambush cam­paigns appeal to younger crowds. In oth­er words, where­as Boomers respond to author­i­ta­tive reviews and endorse­ments, Mil­len­ni­als are much more inter­est­ed in peer reviews and “what is social, hip, trend­ing and cur­rent.”

What’s more, DiGriz agrees the New­cas­tle cam­paign is “like­ly to engage a whole new gen­er­a­tion that oth­er com­pet­ing brands are miss­ing out on and I think it will be real­ly pop­u­lar among a wide vari­ety of gen­er­a­tions.”

The Evolution of the Ambush

The New­cas­tle effort marks a real change in ambush mar­ket­ing from its ori­gins.

As with most things, it’s your fault – it’s the Amer­i­cans’ fault,” said Simon Chad­wick, pro­fes­sor of sport busi­ness strat­e­gy and mar­ket­ing at Coven­try Uni­ver­si­ty.

That’s because the 1976 Olympic Games in Mon­tre­al were a finan­cial dis­as­ter with many spon­sor­ship deals sold for lit­tle mon­ey – on the order of 630 offi­cial deals – and so spon­sors didn’t get the ROI they want­ed and fans became cyn­i­cal at the com­mer­cial­iza­tion of the Games, so the Olympic Com­mit­tee came up with a new mod­el for the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow, but, because of boy­cotts, it didn’t actu­al­ly debut until 1984 in Los Ange­les.

Instead of sell­ing lots of spon­sor­ships, the IOC sold very few for lots of mon­ey – on the order of 11 glob­al spon­sors.

These com­pa­nies typ­i­cal­ly pay $100 mil­lion per Games to be asso­ci­at­ed with the event when it takes place,” Chad­wick said. “And obvi­ous­ly if you are Coke or McDonald’s or Adi­das and you’re spend­ing $100 mil­lion on an asso­ci­a­tion, you want pro­tect­ing.”

Today, bid­ding nations are even oblig­ed to pass leg­is­la­tion that is intend­ed to pro­tect offi­cial spon­sors from trade­mark and copy­right infringe­ment and also from ambush­ing, Chad­wick said. That includes pro­tec­tion and cat­e­go­ry exclu­siv­i­ty from the IOC, but also “almost cre­ates a closed club/society in which unless you have $100 mil­lion, you’re nev­er going to spon­sor the Olympic Games.”

That, Chad­wick said, led rival brands to start con­tem­plat­ing how to get around this and “a deci­sion emerged that ambush mar­ket­ing would be employed as a means of real­ly try­ing to asso­ciate with the event with­out huge rights fees.”

Post-1984, ambush mar­ket­ing emerged “just as a means for brands to asso­ciate with an event that they oth­er­wise had no legal right of asso­ci­a­tion with and prob­a­bly couldn’t afford to com­pete with any­way, but, over the course of time, [ambush mar­ket­ing cam­paigns] have become more seri­ous and sophis­ti­cat­ed and you see brands mak­ing delib­er­ate strate­gic deci­sions not to bid for offi­cial event spon­sor­ships and to real­ly imple­ment a strat­e­gy as ambush­ers and non­con­formist trou­ble­mak­ers,” Chad­wick said.

And this has only been ampli­fied by social media.

Social is increas­ing­ly becom­ing the front line of ambush­ing because it’s very dif­fi­cult to con­trol and mon­i­tor, so what we’re start­ing to see is rival brands and com­pa­nies using [social in] inno­v­a­tive ways…,” Chad­wick said.

Book­mak­er Pad­dy Pow­er, for exam­ple, was “very, very smart in the way they went about their busi­ness” around the 2012 Games in Lon­don.

Accord­ing to Chad­wick, there is a small vil­lage in France called Lon­don that hosts an annu­al sport­ing com­pe­ti­tion, which Pad­dy Pow­er spon­sored in 2012.

And what Pad­dy Pow­er did around Lon­don [Eng­land] around the time of the Olympic Games in 2012 was call itself ‘the offi­cial spon­sor of London’s biggest sport­ing event,’ and there was noth­ing the IOC could do,” Chad­wick said. “This was almost like a bypass attack strat­e­gy where there was no direct attack. What we see is very inno­v­a­tive and humor­ous approach­es to this kind of thing.”

In fact, Chad­wick said there are three gen­er­al types of ambush­es: Incur­sive ambush­es, which are very much about attack­ing rivals and under­min­ing offi­cial spon­sors; dis­trac­tive ambush­es, which are not nec­es­sar­i­ly designed to attack or under­mine, but rather to dis­tract from offi­cial spon­sors as New­cas­tle is doing; and asso­cia­tive ambush­es, which are not about direct­ly attack­ing a rival either, but about stand­ing along­side an event and the offi­cial spon­sors “in the hope that the halo effect of spon­sors and events some­how shines upon these brands stand­ing along­side them,” Chad­wick said.

There is also the real-time mar­ket­ing exam­ple of Mars, whose Snick­ers brand tweet­ed about bit­ing play­er Luis Suarez dur­ing the World Cup.

Chad­wick said this is an exam­ple of an oppor­tunis­tic ambush.

Mars has no legal right of asso­ci­a­tion,” Chad­wick said. “But this was very, very smart and humor­ous.”

So, for a brand that doesn’t have $100 mil­lion lying around, is ambush­ing a good strat­e­gy?

The legal con­sid­er­a­tions are obvi­ous­ly quite impor­tant and brands that don’t have a legal right of asso­ci­a­tion must be care­ful to avoid words, images, logos, col­ors and any­thing else that might sug­gest an asso­ci­a­tion with the event, Chad­wick said. But beyond pun­ish­ments and fines, brands must also con­sid­er how ambush­ing an event will “play out in terms of con­sumer per­cep­tion,” he adds.

An ambush at an event like the Olympics, which show­cas­es nation­al pride, might pro­voke an adverse reac­tion among con­sumers, mak­ing the Olympics a high-risk ambush event, Chad­wick said. An ambush cam­paign also has to fit with­in a brand’s image.

Some brands use ambush­es as posi­tion­ing state­ments and as part of their brand iden­ti­ty and rep­u­ta­tion, Chad­wick said, point­ing to Nike, which has used ambush­es to under­mine Adi­das since the 1990s.

So clear­ly to posi­tion your­self as an ambush­er implies that you are a non­con­formist, you are dan­ger­ous, you are against the main­stream, you are pre­pared to con­tra­vene con­tentions,” Chad­wick said. “For brand man­agers or spon­sor­ship man­agers, it’s an inter­est­ing thing. In one sense, it can help rein­force exist­ing brand per­cep­tion, but, his­tor­i­cal­ly, if [your brand] has been seen as safe, secure and trust­wor­thy, to sud­den­ly oper­ate out­side the main­stream [would not be a good fit].”

In oth­er words, banks, which are sup­posed to be trust­wor­thy, prob­a­bly wouldn’t want to con­sid­er ambush cam­paigns, he adds.

This Means War?

In addi­tion, Chad­wick notes how preva­lent war imagery is with­in ambush mar­ket­ing.

Essen­tial­ly what New­cas­tle is try­ing to do is cre­ate a com­mu­ni­ty of ambush­ers that will ambush togeth­er,” Chad­wick said. “It’s very, very inter­est­ing that the use of the word ‘ambush,’ is war­like.”

In addi­tion, in order for offi­cial spon­sors to stop ambush mar­keters, the tac­tics are no less war­like – it includes intel­li­gence gath­er­ing and infil­tra­tion, Chad­wick said.

Or, in oth­er words, “You have a few choic­es – you either bomb the hell out of them or try to win hearts and minds,” Chad­wick said.

So, for exam­ple, Super Bowl adver­tis­er Bud­weis­er could either go up against an ambush­er like News­cas­tle and “real­ly use its bud­get, strength and pow­er to real­ly sup­press their mes­sages,” Chad­wick said. “Or the alter­na­tive is to win the bat­tle for hearts and minds. If peo­ple know who Bud is and what they’re doing and how syn­ony­mous the rela­tion­ship is between [the brand and the Super Bowl] and when con­sumers think about the Super Bowl, it evokes images around Budweiser…and it’s a nice, warm, fuzzy glow…it doesn’t mat­ter what New­cas­tle does.”

Coin­ci­den­tal­ly, Bud­weis­er is fol­low­ing up on its wild­ly pop­u­lar Pup­py Love spot from 2014, which has near­ly 55 mil­lion views to date, with anoth­er Super Bowl spot with a pup­py in 2015.

This, Chad­wick said, is a great exam­ple of win­ning the bat­tle for hearts and minds.

If there is a close­ness between you and your cus­tomers and they like you then it real­ly doesn’t mat­ter what your rivals do,” Chad­wick said. “It is very dif­fi­cult for them to break the bond and under­mine your rela­tion­ship with your cus­tomers. The exam­ple with the pup­py is great. What the hell does a pup­py have to do with the Super Bowl? But it doesn’t mat­ter because every­one likes pup­pies and it leaves a great feel­ing in the hearts and minds of con­sumers.”

Band of Brands was cre­at­ed by in part­ner­ship with Droga5, Fast Horse, and Medi­aVest. New­cas­tle is import­ed by Heineken USA.

What’s your take on ambush mar­ket­ing?

Lisa Lacy

Written by Lisa Lacy

Lisa is a senior features writer for Inked. She also previously covered digital marketing for Incisive Media. Her background includes editorial positions at Dow Jones, the Financial Times, the Huffington Post, AOL, Amazon, Hearst, Martha Stewart Living and the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund.

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