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Is Touting Past Relationships at Opportune Times Ambush Marketing?

The Performance Research team always has sponsorship on the brain — even when we’re shopping for cereal! We recently snapped photos of two cereal brands shelved side by side at our local grocer. The sight immediately caught our “sponsor eye.”

Quick, which cereal brand officially sponsors the Olympic Games?

If you said Wheaties, you’re forgiven — but mistaken.

With a quick glance, it seems as if both of the cereal giants could be sponsors of the Olympic Games. But look closer. The Kellogg’s box has the iconic Olympic rings logo emblazoned on it, along with language (“official sponsor”) that ties them directly to the Games. The Wheaties box? Not so much.

That’s because Kellogg’s is the official cereal brand of the United States Olympic Committee (USOC), and their Corn Flakes box is part of a marketing campaign driving home that official sponsorship to consumers. Wheaties, on the other hand, has no current official relationship with the USOC or the Olympic Games.

The re-release of past Wheaties boxes featuring Olympic champions at such an opportune time — leading right up to the 2012 Summer Games — could be considered ambush marketing, a tactic that can be cause for concern for those official sponsors (like Kellogg’s) who spend millions of dollars on officially associating their brand with the Olympics.

It’s a recurring issue. Olympic season after Olympic season, unofficial “supporters” of the Olympics elbow their way into the top of consumers’ minds as bon-a-fide Olympic sponsors by using ambush marketing tactics.

We conducted research during the 1994 and 1996 Games that lent insight into consumers’ perceptions of official Olympic sponsor brands. Often, ambush sponsors outpaced official sponsors (e.g., ambusher Nike vs. official sponsor Reebok) in terms of sponsor recall and belief that these non-Olympic companies were doing more than many official sponsors to support the Olympics.

More recently, we collected data after the 2010 Vancouver Games and found that ambush sponsorship marketing was still alive and well. In particular, Subway, who used Michael Phelps in a campaign leading up to the 2010 Games, was strongly associated with the Olympics that year even though they weren’t officially sponsoring the Games. So was Verizon, who used the U.S. Speed Skating team in ads surrounding Vancouver but had no official partnership in 2010. Full details of that report can be found here.

The topic raises a lot of questions: is spending big bucks on official Olympic sponsorship worth it? Is it ethical to lead consumers to believe your brand is associated with the Games when there is no official sponsor relationship there? We welcome your comments on this one.

Also, a challenge: keep your eyes out for all of the official and not-so-official Olympic campaigns going on this month.  Send us your pics, we’d love to see what you uncover.

Just as we’ve done since the 1992 games, we’re planning to conduct similar research for the 2014 Olympic Games.  As always, don’t hesitate to send us a message or ask us questions if you want to learn more about what we’re up to.

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July 5, 2012 · 10:54 am

Subway Wins with “The Biggest Loser”

We all know the story of Jared Fogle, the overweight college student who ate only Subway sandwiches for a year and lost an exorbitant amount of weight.  His weight loss plan resulted in a spokesperson position with Subway and a successful advertising campaign dating back to 1999.    Fast forward ten years and Subway is launching another inspiring and brilliant marketing move.

In association with the popular NBC television show, The Biggest Loser, Subway is offering this past season’s contestant Shay Sorrells $1,000 for every pound she loses between now and next season’s finale in May 2010.  She will also receive free meals from the restaurant chain and have the opportunity to join Jared as Subway spokeswomen for 2010.  At the start of this past season Shay was the shows heaviest contestant ever, weighing in at 476 lbs.  As of last weeks Season 8 finale, she has trimmed down to only 304lbs.  Subway hopes that with their help, Shay can continue to drop the pounds through the spring and reach her optimum weight.

The sponsorship of Shay by Subway seems to be a perfect fit for their image.  Subway relies heavily on the promotion of their “Fresh Fit” menu items, and their position as a healthy alternative to other quick service restaurants.  Also, this sponsorship links Subway to one of the most watched reality shows on television; one that brings hope and positive feelings to so many people around the country.  Kudos to Subway for understanding what has worked for them in the past and finding new ways to stick with a good thing!

Also, this blog post would be a “loser” if we cease to mention how The Biggest Loser not only benefits from the program that Subway is offering them, but they also use the power of their show to do their own good deeds.  The television shows offers a program where viewers can go online and pledge to lose weight, with The Biggest Loser donating 14 cents to Feeding the Hungry for each pound lost.   The show also has produced an online weight loss club and fitness video game to promote effective weight loss in the United States.  It’s no wonder that The Biggest Loser is such a winner!

Check out these sites for more info:



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Would you sponsor a subway stop?

In a recent sponsorship deal out of New York, international banking giant, Barclays, has earned the naming rights for arguably the busiest subway stop in Brooklyn. In return for these rights, Barclays/Forest City Ratner Development Group will be paying the Metropolitan Transit Authority $200,000 annually for the next two decades. The deal which hinges on the completion of the Atlantic Yards project is expected to go into effect sometime in 2012. The Atlantic Yards project is being spearheaded by Forest City Ratner and will include shops, condominiums, with the focal point being a basketball arena named Barclays Center.

atlanticsubwyThis monumental (and relatively inexpensive) sponsorship deal was inked without much media attention, and oddly no public outcry. Perhaps this is due to the fact that the MTA has been trying to sell the naming rights of a subway stop for nearly five years with little to no interest among marketers. So even with little attention, after all it is just one subway stop in Brooklyn, many questions could be raised.

Where is the line crossed between public space and private branding? We are already bombarded with advertisements and marketing material everywhere we go, why should we have to see them when we are trying to find out which track our train is arriving on? Also, even with little sponsor interest in the past, if this project is a success, how long until we see Bank of America Grand Central Station, or the Lexus Station at Columbus Circle? Going further into public territory, what if one day we see state and national parks using corporate branding in order to take in revenue? Welcome to the Nike National Park at Yosemite!

Now take a step back. What is wrong with adding some money to organizations like the MTA? After all the MTA is a broke entity, and this type of income can help to prevent proposed rate hikes and keep trains running on time. Is the public willing to put up with a few more signs and logos, rather than dealing with increased fare prices and under maintained/over crowded subway cars? I think so.

We still have a few years before we will be able to label this sponsorship deal as a success or failure, but for now we can ponder the possibilities and make our own decisions about the benefits / pitfalls of blending corporations with public space.


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