The World Cup's official sponsors should not call their own lack ofcreativity an 'ambush'

This being America, most are probably unaware that the world's biggest sporting event started this weekend. The World Cup engenders more passion than the Olympics, Super Bowl, and World Series put together, combining the love of the game with a patriotic fervor in a way that Americans - whose major sports teams don't usually compete internationally - can't really understand.

This being America, most are probably unaware that the world's biggest sporting event started this weekend. The World Cup engenders more passion than the Olympics, Super Bowl, and World Series put together, combining the love of the game with a patriotic fervor in a way that Americans - whose major sports teams don't usually compete internationally - can't really understand.

Anything that inspires as much passion as the World Cup presents a wonderful opportunity for marketers, who love to associate their brands with events and personalities that resonate on an emotional level with consumers.

That's why Adidas, Budweiser, and Coca-Cola spent $20 million each to become official sponsors, and are furious at Nike and Pepsi, which aren't official sponsors - even though many fans assume they are.

So-called "ambush marketing has become the subject of vigorous debate.

The companies that engage in the practice prefer the term "guerrilla marketing, while official sponsors and event organizers - apparently concerned that the term "ambush didn't carry enough stigma - have been trying to persuade reporters to write about "parasite marketing."

Some companies do attempt to use the official trademarks of the event organizer, which is why FIFA is able to claim that it is successful in 90% of its prosecutions around the world - more than 500 cases in 51 countries.

According to a FIFA spokeswoman, "Ambush marketing not only puts the integrity of the FIFA World Cup at stake, but also the interests of the worldwide football community. Investing money in ambush marketing ... shows not only lack of decency, but also creativity."

Nike's supposed sin involves running a multimillion-dollar ad campaign featuring longtime Nike spokesplayers Eric Cantona and Thierry Henry sponsoring a three-a-side soccer tournament, and buying billboards on the sides of buses that will show real-time scores from the World Cup. At no point does Nike claim to be an official sponsor, or use the tournament logo in conjunction with its advertising - which is why none of the hundreds of successful lawsuits brought by FIFA have targeted Nike, and why attacks on the company take place largely through the media.

Nike has been a supporter of international soccer for many years. That it should be expected to suspend its soccer-related marketing activities for the duration of the World Cup is absurd. The idea that it should not promote the success of athletes under contract who have reached the World Cup is equally unreasonable. It's like suggesting that Pepsi shouldn't be able to use Britney Spears in its ads because Coke is a sponsor of the Grammys.

If there's a failure of creativity here, it's not on the part of Nike, but the tournament organizers and its official sponsors, who need to leverage their deals more aggressively if they are to truly add value.

Paul Holmes has spent the past 15 years writing about the PR business for publications including PRWeek, Inside PR, and Reputation Management. He is currently president of The Holmes Group and editor of www.holmesreport.com.

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