Greatest Ambush Marketing Campaigns Of All Time

Ambush marketing is also known as coat-tail marketing strategy or predatory ambushing marketing strategy. It is the practice in which a brand or a company seeks to ride on the publicity value of a major event, without actually paying for the same. It is a marketing strategy that many brands use to get free promotion and compete with those brands which actually end up paying for the event through sponsorships.

Ambush marketing strategy can sometimes take a crude stance, wherein unauthorized use of logos or designs associated with the ongoing event could be seen. One subtle goal of this marketing strategy is to confuse or manipulate the public into wondering who the actual sponsors of the event are. These days this marketing strategy is not restricted to billboards only, it has ventured into the digital marketing space too, through different activations, campaigns, so on and so forth.

Let us look at some brilliant ambush marketing strategy examples in the history of brands ambushing globally!

#1 Heineken v/s Steinlager

One well-thought-out ambush marketing campaign was the Steinlager “We believe” campaign. Heineken was the official sponsor of the Rugby World Cup and Steinlager then were sponsoring the All Blacks. So, while Heineken was strongly aware of the possibility of Steinlager ambushing, what Steinlager did was unexpected and pure gold at that. 

Steinlager reintroduced their white can and positioned it as a lucky charm. The last time the can was white, the All Blacks had won the RWC. So, this time too, spectators decided to sneak in the white can as their lucky charm, for the team to win. The All Blacks bought the World Cup home, while Steinlager bought home sales revenue and awards in large numbers.

#2 Burger King- Never trust a clown

“The moral is: Never trust a clown.”

And this is exactly the weapon Burger King used to ambush archrival McDonald’s. The venue was the screening of Stephen King’s movie IT’s sequel, and the ambush marketing strategy was executed during the conclusion of the movie screening that this weapon was raised.

The moment Burger King became aware of IT’s sequel, starring a strange clown, they were reminded of their biggest competitor McDonald’s mascot. And hence, they hijacked the pre-premiere of the film, turning the horror film of the year into the longest Burger King spot of all times which said ‘Never trust a clown’.

Burger King gained a lot of visibility and footfalls after this troll stunt of theirs. 

#3 Rona Paints and Apple

Rona, a major Canadian home renovation retailer, had this banner placed below Apple’s iPod Nano billboard near the Jacques Cartier Bridge in Montreal.

The text read: “Nous récupérons les restes de peinture”, this translated to, “we recycle leftover paint.”

Apple’s ‘nano-chromatique’ campaign was a global one, but Rona and its agency Bos, with their kickass marketing strategy, seemed to be the only ones who pulled off an ambush marketing campaign like this.

#4 Redmi and OnePlus

Xiaomi pulled out an ambush marketing strategy to advertise Redmi K20 Pro, its latest offering back in 2019. They placed the billboards highlighting their new mobile phone series strategically next to already existing OnePlus hoardings.

The billboards had a tagline- “Starkly Superior To The Latest One”, with the ‘One’ written specifically in the OnePlus logo’s font. The Redmi billboard used several typical OnePlus design trends to further enhance its ambush and make a dig at their competitor. The red-and-white color scheme of the Redmi billboard is a classic OnePlus hallmark.

#5 World Car Of The Year- BMW & Audi

Santa Monica, California stands witness to the most interesting ambush marketing strategy battle. This was when two world-class automobile manufacturers- Audi and BMW grappled among themselves through billboards.

This crossfire began when BMW launched a billboard advertisement for the 35th MOA Rally. The copy on the billboard went, “A BMW rally with two nearby service centers. What’s next, paramedics at a chess tournament?” The copy seemed irrational, and hence Audi decided to make the most of this opportunity presented to it. Audi struck the iron when it was hot, it advertised its new A4 Sedan with the copy, “Chess, No thanks, I’d rather be driving”, followed by a billboard that said “Your move, BMW”. BMW stole the show with the billboard that said “Checkmate”. Some time after this, Audi put up another billboard saying, “Your pawn is no match for our king”.

These two brands took ambush marketing strategy to another level by congratulating each other in a very quirky way. Audi congratulated its rival for becoming the World Car of the year 2006, this is what Audi had to say through its billboard, “Congratulations to BMW for winning World Car of the Year 2006, From the Winner of Six consecutive Le Mans 24-Hours Races 2000-2006”, and this is what BMW came back at Audi with, “Congratulations to Audi for winning South African Car of the Year 2006, From the Winner of World Car of the Year 2006”

#6 Fiat Photobombed Volkswagen

In May 2012, Google’s Street View published images of Volkswagen’s Swedish headquarters. And guess what? You would not even imagine this! There was a Fiat 500 parked in VW’s driveway!

Fiat noticed the Google cars roaming the streets of Sodertalje in Sweden and they sent in a bright red Fiat 500 to follow it and then parked one of their signature vehicles quite literally on the doorsteps of the entrance to Volkswagen’s HQ. Quite an ambush marketing strategy Fiat pulled, isn’t it?

Fiat was successful in proving that you can move out of the pen and paper universe to pull a creative ambush in the digital marketing world.

We hope these examples gave you some remarkable tips for your next advertising campaign. Now while it would be entirely too difficult to roll out an expensive billboard and rub it in your competitor’s face, a smart ambush marketing strategy might come in handy while planning your next digital marketing campaign, as we have already established through some examples above that it is not only on paper that ambush works best!