Ambush Marketing: opportunities and challenges



Global sporting events often attract the most innovative brand marketing. Great opportunities, however, often come at a cost; sponsors of the London 2012 Olympics, for example, paid up to $100 million to be officially associated with the event.

Unsurprisingly, ambush or “guerilla” marketing is a common issue arising at the world’s largest sports events. Football fans will recall Bavaria beer’s controversial “orange dresses”at the 2010 FIFA World Cup, or the frequency with which athletes wore Beats by Dre headphones at the London 2012 Olympics.

The Middle East has a plethora of globally recognised, and often sovereign backed, events such as the Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi F1 Grand Prix, the Mubadala World Tennis Championship, DP World Tour Golf Championship, and Commercial Bank Moto Grand Prix of Qatar.
The 2022 FIFA Football World Cup will be hosted in the gulf state of Qatar. This is likely to ignite interest in unofficial brand association not only with the World Cup but also with other global sporting events in the region. This leads to the question: “is ambush marketing illegal in the Middle East?”

In keeping with most countries, including the USA and England, the Middle East generally does not have specific legislation prohibiting ambush marketing, but this does not mean it is permitted.

Taking the UAE as an example, the UAE has some of the most developed laws in the region, and there are a range of provisions in UAE law that potentially prohibit ambush marketing. Any marketing that includes false particulars or misleading statements/pictures is prohibited. Further, imitating a trade mark, or using a trade mark without permission, is further prohibited. Also, all advertisements must be consistent with the rules of Shariaa Law, public order, public decency and the traditions of the UAE.

Finally, and perhaps most crucially, advertisements must be specifically granted a permit by the relevant ministries. For this reason, ambush marketing is not commonplace. Further, given the importance of Qatar 2022 to Qatar’s economy, it is possible that Qatar will, leading up to the World Cup, issue either general advertising laws and/or specific decrees regarding advertising for the event. This will need to be monitored carefully to avoid falling foul of any such new laws.

While overt ambush marketing, along with anything that is misleading or false, is likely to be rejected, there are opportunities for brands to benefit from a big event. There are some great international examples of marketing of this sort that are clearly not misleading. It is, therefore, possible that brands who are well advised can still engage in marketing efforts to benefit from events in the region. However, we recommend seeking legal advice before undertaking such activities.

This article is part of the BrandWrites Newsletter for November 2013




Melissa Murray

United Arab Emirates

Call me on: +971 4309 3214