Ambush in the New Forest? Scott Bailey LLP with offices in Lymington and Lyndhurst explains

The game of rugby illustrates ambush marketing - how to avoid the legal pitfalls

Beyond the thrill of the game of rugby lies a complex arena where businesses vie for brand exposure through marketing and advertising activities. "Ambush" marketing is rife within the context of sporting events and can be tempting to try - but businesses should exercise caution to avoid infringing trademarks or misleading consumers. Ben Ironmonger at Lymington's Scott Bailey LLP which has just opened a new office in Lyndhurst too, explains... 


rugby tackle practiceBen loves rugby!

I love rugby. I love playing (even if my body now really hates it), I love watching it, and I love talking about it – particularly in the pub or a local rugby club. I especially love the Six Nations Championship, and had a brilliant time over the weekend in Twickenham watching England (just) beat a plucky Wales team for my early birthday treat.

However, beyond the thrill of the game lies a complex arena where businesses vie for brand exposure through marketing and advertising activities.

This brings me to an area of law which I find incredibly interesting - ambush marketing. It’s absolutely rife within the context of sporting events, including the Rugby World Cup and Six Nations Championship.

What is ambush marketing?!

Ambush marketing is a strategic tactic employed by businesses of all shapes and sizes to associate themselves with a major event without official sponsorship, thereby leveraging the event's prestige for their own benefit. This practice poses challenges for event organisers and official sponsors, as it diverts consumer attention away from authorised sponsors who have invested significantly in event promotion. On the other hand, it also creates some fairly amusing campaigns for consumers to enjoy (if you’re that way inclined).

Throughout sporting history, numerous instances of ambush marketing have garnered attention. From Pepsi's provocative campaign during the 1996 Cricket World Cup to Nike athletes’ manoeuvres at the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000, businesses have utilised various tactics to capitalise on major sporting events without sponsorship obligations. Other notable examples include Paddy Power's cheeky billboard campaigns during the London 2012 Olympics and Specsavers' social media ambush tactics during the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

Intellectual property rights such as trade marks, copyright, and passing off actions offer avenues for legal recourse in respect of ambush marketing. Event organisers often leverage these rights to protect against unauthorised association with their events. For instance, trademarks related to rugby cups and competitions are registered to deter non-sponsors from exploiting the event's branding for commercial gain.

Capitalise legitimately on your association with sporting events

Ben IronmongerBusinesses wanting to capitalise on sporting events must exercise caution to avoid infringing on registered trade marks or misleading consumers about their association with the event. Subtle references to the event's theme or topic are generally safer than explicit connections that could be misconstrued as official sponsorship. Moreover, businesses should refrain from overusing official logos or hashtags on social media platforms, as this could lead to legal repercussions. It can be a fine line!

As the allure of major sporting events continues to captivate audiences worldwide, businesses must navigate the complex landscape of ambush marketing with care and diligence. By understanding the legal implications and implementing strategic measures to mitigate risks, businesses can effectively leverage the marketing opportunities presented by sporting events while maintaining compliance with relevant regulations and guidelines. In this dynamic environment, seeking legal advice and staying abreast of legislation, as well as official governing bodies' directives, is paramount to safeguarding your brand reputation and ensuring long-term success in the competitive arena of sports marketing.

Call us for a chat, about branding, trade marks, IP licensing - and all things contract law!

If you need assistance on anything covered in this article, Ben Ironmonger and the commercial team at Scott Bailey LLP are ideally placed to provide down to earth commercial legal advice to SME clients on branding and UK trade marks, IP licensing, and all things contract law.

About Scott Bailey LLP

Founded in 1930, Scott Bailey has grown to become a leading firm in the New Forest, providing a full range of legal services to private individuals and businesses. Services for individuals include Residential Conveyancing, Divorce, Family, Wills Trusts & Probate, Litigation & Disputes.

SME business legal services include Corporate, Commercial, Intellectual Property, Dispute Resolution, Landlord & Tenant, Insolvency and Employment Law. Scott Bailey LLP is one of only a very few firms based in the New Forest providing these specialist services. 

The first firm in the region to receive the Law Society's prestigious LEXCEL award for high standards of practice management and customer care, Scott Bailey LLP promises top-quality, professional help from a team of expert solicitors who will put your best interests at the heart of their work.

Scott Bailey was delighted and proud to win "Business of the Year" at the 2023 New Forest Brilliance in Business Awards - read story here.


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