Monday, October 11, 2010

Ambush marketing research wins best paper prize

Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, CANADA
October 5, 2010

Research from SFU Business professors Leyland Pitt and Michael Parent on the implications of ambush marketing at global-scale sporting events has garnered a notable award from the journal Business Horizons (Kelley School of Business, Indiana University, USA). Entitled "Event Sponsorship and Ambush Marketing: Lessons from the Beijing Olympics," the research has won the Business Horizons/Elsevier Publishing Prize for the journal’s "Best Article" published in 2010.

The article was co-written with Pierre Berthon of Bentley University in Boston, and Peter Steyn of Sweden’s LuleĆ„ University of Technology.

Their research shows that the persistent effectiveness of ambush marketers leaves sporting event sponsors particularly vulnerable – costing them not only their financial investment, but ultimately their customers.

The study’s authors examined data from the 2008 "Li Ning affair", which saw Olympic sponsor Adidas ambushed by lesser-known Chinese sportswear company Li Ning at the Beijing Summer Olympics. The Chinese company's namesake founder, Li Ning, was China’s most decorated Olympian and it was he who lit the Olympic flame at the 2008 opening ceremony.

Data collected after the closing of the Beijing Games isolated what the researchers called the "Li Ning effect" – which describes being incorrectly identified as an official sponsor, and the positive effects accrued to a company's brand as a result. In the footwear category at least, Li Ning was the clear brand winner of the 2008 Olympics, in spite of the millions spent by Adidas to secure a sponsorship.

"Amidst the background noise of multiple sponsorships," said the study’s authors, "this highly poignant event stuck in people’s memory such that when they were asked to recall who the official sponsor of athletic footwear was for the Beijing Games, more of our respondents thought it was Li Ning than Adidas."

The researchers offer important advice for marketers trying to see through successful sponsorship investments in events such as the Olympics and FIFA World Cup. "Don’t naively put yourself in a position to be ambushed; remember, large sporting events provide optimal venues and occasions for this to happen," they suggest. "This does not mean that firms should abstain from sponsorship; large global events can provide superlative opportunities for marketing communication. “However, walking into sponsorships and blithely ignoring the lessons from the Li Ning affair would be asking for trouble. If you do decide to sponsor a major event, anticipate and behave as though an ambush will happen."

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